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Free Study Guide for The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

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The Great Santini Study Guide


The Great Santini tells the tale of a tough-as-nails Marine fighter pilot Lt. Col. Bull Meecham, who addresses himself as “The Great Santini” and the family that he runs as if they’re his cadets. It showcases their story as they try to fit in the Marine town of Ravenel. The book is set in the year 1962, prior to the Vietnam War. The novel delves into Ben Meecham’s struggles through manhood, playing basketball for his school, and the bond that he has formed with a Jewish boy and an African-American farmer. The story also reveals the bittersweet relationship of Ben and Bull Meechan with each other, as well as Ben’s actions in order to win his father’s approval. The book is based on the own childhood experiences of the author, Pat Conroy.

Chapter 1 Summary

The book opens at a going-away party for Lieutenant Colonel Bull Meecham at the Cordova Hotel near the docks of Barcelona. There were fourteen Marine Corps fighter pilots at the party, all from the aircraft carrier Forrestal. They’ve been drinking for the most of the day. Their squadron’s commanding officer, Ty Mullimax, has already passed out during the early afternoon and has been laid down on top of a table at the center of the room. The party, starting around noontime, quickly turned from a formal, sensible affair into a noisy racket once alcohol got involved.

The maître d’ of the hotel, Pedro, walked into the room to put a stop to the ruckus, as guests of the hotel were already complaining about the overwhelming noise coming from the gentlemen. He noticed Ty lying motionless on the table and asked Bull about what happened. Bull and the other officers joked that Ty was already dead and that they’d be back for him in six months. Pedro didn’t find the joke funny and told Bull that it was time for them to end the party. Bull, not liking what he heard, gave a signal to the other men and all of them hurled their glasses towards a fireplace. He turned Pedro away and told him that he’d handle the other Naval officers who might complain about the noise.

Captain Bookout, getting annoyed with the racket, demanded that the officers leave the premises. Mullimax even resorted to lying right in front of the Captain, telling him that Bull was suffering from the flu. They staged a prank wherein Bull hid an opened can of mushroom soup inside his jacket and staggered onto the stage where the band was playing in front of other diners at the hotel. He pretended as if he threw up, using mushroom soup as fake vomit, disgusting the other guests. Ace and Sammy, two other Marine officers, took out spoons and ate the mushroom soup on stage.

The next morning, Bull was called in by Colonel Luther Windham, informing him that the Captain didn’t like his antics and wanted him to be written up for it. Instead, Windham gave him a proper farewell.

Notes: The usual debauchery of those who are in the Corps is evident in the chapter. The pranking and the mockery, yet respect for authority is shown by those that were with Bull.

Chapter 2 Summary

Not seeing their father for a year, Ben, along with his mother and siblings, eagerly wait outside the control tower of Smythe field. They start praying for his father to have a safe flight.

Bull’s wife was starting to get fidgety, eyeing the people working on the planes. His son Ben cracked a joke about how the Marines are only good at hitting their children. It is revealed that Bull received orders to uproot his family from Atlanta. The children started arguing until Ben started observing his mother. He thought about how, all of a sudden, his mother was acting strict just because his father is about to arrive.

Finally, after waiting for a long while, his father’s plane had arrived. The Great Santini is about to rejoin their family.

Notes: The readers are given an insight on how the children and Lillian are excited, yet dreading the return of their patriarch.

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Celis, Christine. "TheBestNotes on The Great Santini". . 09 May 2017