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Find the pictures on the web of the day the police broke into the real Homer and Langley’s house on Fifth Avenue and the sequence of photos of the removal of its contents. Describe the crowd that we see in these photos. As an outsider looking in, consider how the house and the brothers were […]


In enabling us to understand Homer, Doctorow explores his love of music. How does music define Homer’s character and connect him with others outside the house (for instance, Mary Elizabeth Riordan, Harold Robileaux)? Try this: Consider the following passage from p. 36: “Here is where Langley came to the rescue.  He found at some estate […]


Find a photo of the newspapers that filled the rooms of the real Collyer house. How does Doctorow interpret this image? Why does Langley’s “Theory of Replacements” (p. 48) cause him to collect all the daily papers? Try this: Search in Google Images or other search engines for “collyer brothers” or “homer and langley” to find […]


Find and listen to the song “Me and My Shadow.” In their conversation when they are in jail for holding the tea dances, Homer asks Langley “Am I your shadow?” (p. 74). In what ways could this song be the theme song for Homer’s story of the brothers’ lives together? Try this: There are numerous […]


The real Collyers lost their telephone service in 1917, and then their electricity, water, and gas in 1928. In Doctorow’s novel, Homer describes his and Langley’s lives as a battle with “the Health and Fire Departments, the Bank, the utilities, and everyone else” (p. 175). What do the brothers do to enable themselves to survive […]


In Doctorow’s story, many characters from outside Homer and Langley’s home pass through their house and lives, including Mary Elizabeth Riordan, Vincent the gangster, the Hoshiyamas, Harold Robileaux, and Lissy the flower child, for example. What do the “outsiders” share with Langley and Homer? How do they connect the brothers with the world and the […]


Describe some of the women in Homer’s life, from Julia to Jacqueline Roux. Which of his female companions do you think, in the end, is most important to Homer? Why does he love her? Try this: In addition to your personal reflections on this topic, you may want to use new technologies to substantiate your […]


When Langley comes back from the war, Homer puts Langley’s Springfield rifle on the fireplace mantel, saying that this object represents “almost the first piece in the collection of artifacts from our American life” (p. 24). Find three or four other objects from the real Collyer’s house that symbolize their “American” life. What makes these […]

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