Sources for Further Study (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Booklist 96 (August, 2000): 2074.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 8, 2000, p. 2.
New York 37 (September 25, 2000): 63.
The New York Times, September 21, 2000, p. B10.
The New York Times Book Review 105 (September 24, 2000): 8.
Newsweek 136 (September 25, 2000): 69.
The Observer, October 15, 2000, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly 247 (August 21, 2000): 44.
San Francisco Chronicle, October 1, 2000, p. REV1.
Time 156 (September 25, 2000): 103.
The Times Literary Supplement, October 6, 2000, p. 24.
USA Today, September 21, 2000, p. D6.
The Washington Post Book World, September 17, 2000, p. 15.
(The entire section is 61 words.)
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Allusion occurs when an author refers to people, events, symbols, or stories external to his or her story. Allusions may be only hinted or implied as the author assumes the reader understands the connection and what it means. Allusions are an economical device, permitting an author to introduce new ideas without a long explanation. Usually comprehension of an allusion is not critical to a basic understanding of a story, but the reader’s experience is enhanced if he or she does recognize what the author is trying to say. The title of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is an allusion to common comic book titles. Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay are an allusion to Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the creators of Superman. Tracey Bacon’s name is an allusion to kosher law because he and his love is forbidden to Sammy, a good Jewish boy.
Chabon alludes to mythology when he compares Joe’s leaving Prague with the legendary Jewish hero Golem. According to folklore, Golem, a larger-than-life automaton, was sculpted by Rabbi Loew in the sixteenth century from river mud pulled from the banks of the Moldau. Golem was created to protect the Jews of Prague and was awakened when need arose. Sammy Clay’s name is an allusion to the Golem; when he is no longer essential at the end of the story, he leaves, having accomplished his task of helping Rosa, Joe, and Tommy.
Foreshadowing occurs when an image or event in a story gives information about what is going to happen later in the text. In Kavalier & Clay, the smuggling of the Golem out of Prague foreshadows doom for the Jews in Prague because the Golem, the legendary hero, is made unavailable when they need help the most. Joe and Thomas’s near drowning in the River Moldau foreshadows Thomas’s death by drowning six years later. Sammy’s view of Joe at the top of the fire escape of Jerry’s building, with the light slanting down on him out of a grey sky foreshadows the success of the Escapist, whom they create later that day. Joe’s sighting of a man he mistakes for his father at the docking of the Rotterdam foreshadows his father’s death. Joe’s first attempt to leave New York City foreshadows his later, dramatic departure to the U.S. Navy when the United States finally enters World War II. Foreshadowing is an important literary device which adds cohesion to the plot and allows...
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Conflict in the Middle East
In the 1990s, tensions increased in Middle Eastern countries such as Israel and Iraq. Palestinian dissidents stepped up their efforts to separate from the State of Israel, and some of these protests escalated to terrorism, including bombing public places and shooting innocent people if they crossed into the wrong territory. On November 4, 1995, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist because of Rabin’s role in negotiating peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Following the Gulf War in 1991, worldwide concern grew that Iraq was stockpiling weapons and possibly attempting to build nuclear weapons. The United States has historically taken a hard-line approach to dealing with Saddam Hussein, who was president of Iraq from 1979 until 2003. Hostility between Hussein and the United States threatened to escalate the problem of Iraq disarmament in the late 1990s, forcing United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan to step in and negotiate new arrangements, including U.N. inspectors to search Iraq for weapons of mass destruction. These arrangements did not last long. Paul Wolfowitz, a U.S. military analyst, called for more aggressive action, which presidents Clinton and Bush tempered with less hostile philosophies such as those proposed by then secretary of state Colin Powell.
Although there is no evidence connecting the terrorist attacks of September 11,...
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The most powerful technique that Chabon employs in approaching the various themes of the novel is his use of history to not only provide a backdrop behind the action, but to actively participate in the shaping of the characters and the narrative. To do this, Chabon did extensive research into the history of the time, and into the Golden Age of comic books, as is clear from his author's note at the end of the book. For the most part, he uses real places and place names, creating a kind of realism for the story. The New York City of the 1940s and 1950s comes alive as fictional characters are placed within it, and carry out their lives on its streets and in its buildings. Several real-life locations are particularly important for the story, like Louis Tannen's Magic Shop, where Joe meets other magicians in New York when he first arrives, and is where Tommy first gets a glimpse of Joe, who has finally returned to New York after his time in the service. Sammy, who because of his leg cannot be drafted, does his part for the war effort by watching the skies from the observation deck of the Empire State Building for enemy aircraft.
The dependence on real-life events and historical figures, too, add a richness to the narrative. In this way, Chabon makes historical events seem more personal, as the reader watches the fictional characters experience them. At the same time, by having the fictional characters react to history it makes their endeavors seem more...
(The entire section is 359 words.)
Ideas for Group Discussions
Because of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay's use of history, it positions itself within a variety of discourses, unlike many other novels that deal with the same issues. Reading the novel might prompt discussion about the general themes that the novel raises that are not unique to its chosen point in time, about historical issues of that time itself, or both, the ways in which the themes with which it concerns itself have to do with the period of time in which they take place.
1. Find out more about the Golem, a figure from Jewish legend, and consider its appearances in the novel. It appears only at the beginning and end; why do you think Chabon frames his narrative in this way? What is the significance of the Golem for the themes Chabon addresses?
2. During training, Kornblum tells Joe that only love can open a certain kind of lock. What does he mean? How is this reiterated throughout the text?
3. Describe what happens to Joe while he is in Antarctica. Does he change? What does he learn? Why is that part of the novel important?
4. Compare the different "families" found in the book. What different kinds of "units" can you find? Describe their similarities and differences. How do the characters relate to these different families?
5. How do you think Sammy would describe the American dream? How would Joe? Rosa? How would you describe the American dream?
6. Consider the ending....
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Extensive is perhaps the best word to use to describe The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Looking into such matters as anxiety, art, advertising, capitalism, Hollywood, loneliness, loss, war, physical disability, fatherhood, family, homosexuality, religion, escape, and exile, the novel covers social concerns that are almost as wide as the geographical experience of Joseph Kavalier, one of the two protagonists of the book, who in the course of the story finds himself in Prague, New York City, and Antarctica. The other protagonist, Sammy Clay, spends the bulk of the novel in New York, where most of the action takes place. The novel tracks the relationship of these two comic book artists—Joe draws, Sam writes—focusing on their lives in the 1940s and 1950s, when, on a grand scale, America was dealing with World War II and its aftermath, and on a lesser one, comic books were experiencing a Golden Age. At the beginning of their friendship, Joe and Sammy create the comic book hero the Escapist, a figure modeled after Superman. It begins as a marketing tool for novelty items for their boss, Sheldon Anapol, but more importantly as a way to make a name for themselves, and it is this character that leads to the height of their success. Because of these narrative matters, the main social concerns of the novel deal directly with characters' struggle to make their way and figure out their own identities in a world that is sometimes a Technicolor dream, but more...
(The entire section is 1640 words.)
Compare and Contrast
- 1940s: World War II begins in 1939. The United States becomes directly involved in 1941. By the time the war ends in 1945, over 62 million soldiers and civilians are dead, marking this as the world’s deadliest war to date.
1990s: A series of civil wars and armed conflicts break out in the former Yugoslav republic in 1991 and lasts until 2001. Reported numbers of deaths vary but range between 100,000 and 200,000 civilians and soldiers on all sides.
Today: The United States invades Iraq in 2003, beginning the Second Gulf War (also known as the Iraq War). As of 2006, approximately 3,000 Americans and perhaps as many as 500,000 Iraqis have been killed.
- 1940s: In this Golden Age of comic books, the most popular superheroes are Superman, Batman, and Captain America.
1990s: The Modern Age of comic books is sometimes also called the Gimmick Age, the Dark Age, or the Diamond Age, for a variety of reasons. The X-men team of superheroes enjoys resurgence in popularity. Anti-heroes such as Spawn and Venom also become trendy.
Today: Japanese comic books called manga are extremely popular with readership comprising 60 percent women, a sharp contrast to the male-dominated readership of comic books. Popular series include Chobits and Doraemon.
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Topics for Further Study
Individually or in groups, create a superhero and write a story featuring him or her. Include a weakness along with a superpower, a villain, a secret identity, and sidekick or other supporters. For extra credit, illustrate your tale.
Science has traditionally been important to superheroes and their villains, either as a source of superpower or inventions to aid in fighting or causing crime. What area of science interests you? For example, biology, nuclear physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, etc. Dream up an invention or application of technology within your field of interest that would be an aid to a superhero or villain. Create an illustrated poster demonstrating your idea.
Research a heroic figure from legend or history. Does this figure fit any of the superhero criteria such as a secret identity, superpowers, and an idealistic mission? Write a brief report to share with your classmates.
One of Rosa’s artistic expressions is a dreambook. In her dreambook, Rosa uses collage, illustration, and text to tell the stories she experiences when she is dreaming. Find or make a blank journal and create your own dreambook based on a dream you have had.
The Holocaust took a terrible toll of loss and displacement on the groups targeted by the Nazis. Unfortunately, genocide still happens to this day. Research an incident of genocide that has happened in the recent past, examining why it was carried out and what can be done to...
(The entire section is 695 words.)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay fits nicely within a tradition of what might be considered pseudo-epic novels about individuals, which take as their setting a somewhat accurate and realistic moment in history. The use of real locations and cameo appearances of historical figures enrich the story in these novels, and the extensive historical research that went into the writing of this particular novel, described by Chabon's "Author's Note" at the end of the book, is deployed effectively as a way to explore the characters, and the history itself, more fully. Two notable participants in this kind of writing are Gore Vidal and E. L. Doctorow.
Gore Vidal, beginning with Julian in 1964, has written a few novels of this sort, most notably his American Chronicles series, which he concluded with The Golden Age in 2000. While the series tracks America and Americans over a century, this particular novel tells a story of individuals living in America in the 1940s. In this way, the novel is very similar to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, for it also employs a historical background and real-life characters interspersed with fictional ones to tell its story. The difference lies in the emphasis of each novel; Vidal, not surprisingly, is more concerned with the political aspects of America, rather than the social and personal, as is Chabon. Thus, Vidal's novel is heavier on the history, and no one character...
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None of Chabon's previous works are of such impressive scale as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but they do share some similar themes. Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988) tells the tale of a young man, just graduated, who is trying to figure out what he wants to be, and in the process comes to terms with his sexuality. This novel deals with issues brought up by Sammy's homosexuality, and the general theme of identity formation on a more personal and poignant level. Chabon's second novel, Wonder Boys (1995), follows an aging English professor, Grady Tripp, for a weekend as he struggles with his 2000-plus page manuscript, whose story has yet to take shape, his agent, who wants to see the elusive manuscript, his mistress, who has just found out she is pregnant, and his students, one on whom he has a crush and the other who needs his help to break out of his depressive shell. This novel, like The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, works on a more local level, looking at Grady's relationships and his blocked process of creation. Grady's unfinished epic novel, which is based on Chabon's own experience, echoes a similar project that Sammy is working on throughout the novel; the theme of a block caused by one's own emotional anxieties unites the two stories. Chabon has also published two collections of short stories, A Model World and Other Stories (1991) and Werewolves in Their Youth: Stories (1999). These...
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The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay at http://www.sugarbombs.com/kavalier/ is a fan site for Chabon’s book created and maintained by Nate Raymond. It collects reviews, historical information, artwork, news, and more.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay has been adapted as an abridged audio book narrated by David Colacci. It was produced by Brilliance Audio in 2005 and was, as of 2006, available on both compact disc and cassette tape.
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What Do I Read Next?
Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and the American Comic Book Revolution (2004), by Ronin Ro, covers the life and career of influential comic book artist, Jack Kirby.
Superman Chronicles, Volume 1 (2006) is a collection by the original Superman creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. In this graphic novel, they reprint all of Superman’s early appearances, beginning in 1938.
The Final Solution: A Story of Detection is Michael Chabon’s 2004 novel about an aged Sherlock Holmes engaged in solving one last mystery.
Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (1996), by Kenneth Silverman, is an acclaimed biography of the world’s most famous escape artist. It contains more than a hundred photos, many of them rare and previously unseen.
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (Volume I, 1986; Volume II, 1991), by Art Spiegelman, is a graphic novel memoir with comic-like drawings about Spiegelman’s father and how he survived World War II and the Holocaust. Maus won many awards, including the 1992 Pulitzer Prize Special Award.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2001), by Dave Eggers, is a critically acclaimed memoir about Eggers's life as a single-parent to his younger brother after the death of both of their parents. Eggars is the editor of McSweeney’s, a publishing house to which Chabon has strong ties.
A Model World and Other Stories...
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Chabon, Michael. “Michael Chabon: A Writer With Many Faces.” Interview by Byron Cahill. Writing 27, no. 6 (April/May, 2005): 16-19. Cahill interviews Chabon about his various influences and his writing process.
Glaser, Amelia. “From Polylingual to Postvernacular: Imagining Yiddish in the Twenty-First Century.” Jewish Social Studies 14, no. 3 (Spring/Summer, 2008): 150-164. Discusses Chabon’s use of Jewish identity and Jewish language in several of his novels.
Myers, D. G. “Michael Chabon’s Imaginary Jews.” Sewanee Review 116, no. 4 (Fall, 2008): 572-588. Dissects the ways in which Chabon uses Jewish characters to explore the lives of those in the actual Jewish diaspora and the concept of Jewishness as an identity.
Punday, Daniel. “Kavalier and Clay, the Comic-Book Novel, and Authorship in a Corporate World.” Critique 49, no. 3 (Spring, 2008): 291-302. Points out ways in which the contemporary novel wrestles with the idea of the self and being an author in the contemporary industrial economy, as well as ways in which the novel examines owning one’s work.
Singer, Marc. “Embodiments of the Real: The Counterlinguistic Turn in the Comic-Book Novel.” Critique 49, no. 3 (Spring, 2008): 273-289. Provides a history...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Campbell, Joseph, he Hero with a Thousand Faces, Princeton University Press, 1968, p. 193.
Chabon, Michael, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Picador, 2000.
Kalfus, Ken, “The Golem Knows,” in New York Times Book Review, September 24, 2000, p. 8.
Maslin, Janet, “A Life and Death Story Set in Comic Book Land,” in New York Times, September 21, 2000, pp. B10, E10.
O’Nan, Stewart, Review of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 17, 2000, p. G8.
Podhoretz, John, Review of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, in Commentary, Vol. 3, No. 6, pp. 68–72.
Amundsen, Roald, The South Pole, Cooper Square Press, 2001. This book gives a first-hand account of Amundsen’s 1911 expedition to the South Pole.
Chabon, Michael, and others, Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, Vol. 1–3, Dark Horse Comics, 2004–2006. This series of graphic novels reprint the Escapist comic books along with original content. Dark Horse Comics launched The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist following the popularity of Chabon’s novel.
McCloud, Scott, Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form, Harper, 2000. This...
(The entire section is 270 words.)