A Map of the World
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3.81 / 5

"A Map of the World" Summary

By Jane Hamilton

fiction | 400 pages | Published in NaN

ISBN_13: 9780385720106

Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A woman's life unravels after an unthinkable tragedy strikes her family and she becomes the target of blame in her small town.


In the gripping novel "A Map of the World" by Jane Hamilton, readers are taken on an emotional journey through the lives of Alice and Howard Goodwin, a couple living on a dairy farm in rural Wisconsin. As their seemingly idyllic life takes a tragic turn, the story explores themes of guilt, redemption, and the complexities of human relationships. With its compelling narrative and thought-provoking exploration of moral dilemmas, "A Map of the World" is a captivating read that will leave readers pondering the intricacies of life and the choices we make.

Brief Synopsis

Set in the small town of Prairie Center, Wisconsin, "A Map of the World" delves into the lives of Alice and Howard Goodwin, who are struggling to balance their demanding jobs, raising their two young daughters, and maintaining their farm. The novel opens with Alice's perspective as she deals with the daily challenges and frustrations of her life. However, everything changes when a tragedy occurs on their property, leading to a devastating accusation that turns the community against Alice.

As Alice faces a legal battle and the weight of guilt, the narrative shifts to Howard's perspective, offering a glimpse into his struggles to support his wife and protect his family. Throughout the story, the author skillfully weaves together past and present, allowing readers to witness the unraveling of the Goodwins' lives and the profound impact of their choices.

Main Characters

Character NameDescription
Alice GoodwinA dedicated wife, mother, and school nurse who faces a life-altering tragedy and the subsequent accusations that follow.
Howard GoodwinAlice's husband, a hardworking dairy farmer who grapples with his own guilt and tries to hold his family together.
Theresa CollinsAlice's best friend and a fellow school nurse who offers support and understanding during Alice's darkest moments.
Claire GoodwinAlice and Howard's eldest daughter, who struggles to understand the events unfolding around her and cope with the aftermath.
Emma GoodwinAlice and Howard's youngest daughter, who is too young to comprehend the tragedy but feels its impact on her family.

Summary of Different Story Points Over Chapters

Chapter 1: The Daily Struggles

In the opening chapter, readers are introduced to Alice as she navigates the challenges of her daily life as a wife, mother, and school nurse. Through her perspective, we gain insight into the complexities of her relationships with her husband Howard, her daughters Claire and Emma, and her best friend Theresa.

Chapter 2: The Tragedy Strikes

A tragic accident occurs on the Goodwins' property, leading to the death of a neighbor's child. This event sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of the Goodwin family.

Chapter 3: The Accusations

Alice is wrongfully accused of neglect and abuse, causing the community to turn against her. She faces a legal battle and the loss of her job, as well as the weight of guilt for the accident that occurred on her watch.

Chapter 4: Howard's Perspective

The narrative shifts to Howard's perspective as he grapples with his own guilt and tries to support Alice. He struggles to protect his family and maintain their livelihood as the accusations against Alice intensify.

Chapter 5: The Trial

Alice's trial begins, and the community's judgment and prejudice become increasingly apparent. As the courtroom drama unfolds, the Goodwins' relationships are put to the test, and secrets from the past are revealed.

Chapter 6: Redemption and Healing

With the trial over, Alice and Howard must find a way to rebuild their lives and heal the wounds caused by the tragedy and its aftermath. The novel explores themes of forgiveness, redemption, and the resilience of the human spirit.

Main Events

  • The accidental death of a neighbor's child on the Goodwins' property.
  • Alice's wrongful accusations of neglect and abuse.
  • The community's judgment and ostracization of Alice.
  • Alice's trial and the courtroom drama.
  • Howard's struggle to support Alice and protect his family.
  • The Goodwins' journey towards redemption and healing.

Themes and Insights

Guilt and Innocence

The novel delves into the complexities of guilt and innocence, exploring how one tragic event can forever change a person's life and the way they are perceived by others. It raises questions about the nature of blame and the impact of public opinion on an individual's sense of self.

Redemption and Forgiveness

Through the characters' journeys, "A Map of the World" examines the possibilities of redemption and forgiveness. It explores how individuals can find forgiveness within themselves and from others, even in the face of devastating circumstances.

Community and Prejudice

The novel also shines a light on the power of community and the potential for prejudice and unfair judgment. It explores how gossip, rumors, and preconceived notions can influence the way people are treated, even in close-knit communities.

Parenting and Sacrifice

The challenges and sacrifices of parenthood are central to the story. It examines the lengths parents will go to protect their children and the weight of responsibility that comes with raising a family.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Map of the World" is a thought-provoking and emotionally charged novel that explores the depths of human relationships and the consequences of our actions. Through its compelling narrative and well-developed characters, the book delves into themes of guilt, redemption, and the complexities of community. It serves as a reminder of the importance of compassion, forgiveness, and the power of resilience in the face of adversity.


Jane Hamilton's "A Map of the World" is a captivating and poignant novel that delves into the complexities of guilt, redemption, and the impact of tragedy on individuals and communities. Through its compelling narrative and well-drawn characters, the book offers profound insights into the human condition and the choices we make. With its exploration of moral dilemmas and themes of forgiveness and resilience, "A Map of the World" is a powerful and thought-provoking read that will stay with readers long after they turn the final page.

A Map of the World FAQ

  1. What is the book 'A Map of the World' about?

    A Map of the World is a novel about the profound impact of a tragic accident on the lives of two families in a small town.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Map of the World'?

    The author of 'A Map of the World' is Jane Hamilton.

  3. Is 'A Map of the World' a fiction or non-fiction book?

    'A Map of the World' is a work of fiction.

  4. When was 'A Map of the World' first published?

    'A Map of the World' was first published in 1994.

  5. What is the setting of 'A Map of the World'?

    'A Map of the World' is set in a small town in Wisconsin, USA.

  6. What are some major themes explored in 'A Map of the World'?

    Some major themes explored in 'A Map of the World' include guilt, family dynamics, rural life, and the complexity of human relationships.

  7. Is 'A Map of the World' a standalone novel or part of a series?

    'A Map of the World' is a standalone novel.

  8. Has 'A Map of the World' won any awards?

    Yes, 'A Map of the World' was a finalist for the National Book Award.

  9. Is 'A Map of the World' suitable for young readers?

    'A Map of the World' contains mature themes and is more suitable for adult readers.

  10. Are there any film adaptations of 'A Map of the World'?

    Yes, 'A Map of the World' was adapted into a film starring Sigourney Weaver and Julianne Moore.