From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Analysis

Setting

The story takes place in Connecticut and New York in the mid-1960s. Tired of her responsibilities, eleven-year-old Claudia Kincaid plans an adventure: she will run away and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her plans involve her nine-year-old brother, Jamie, who is a pennypincher but also a kindred spirit. Both siblings love adventure, and they complement each other well, Claudia being careful about everything except money, and Jamie being careless about everything except money. Together, these two form a team that first manages to invade the museum and then sets out to discover the secret of Angel, a two-foot statue thought to be the work of Michelangelo. Their efforts to prove that the statue is indeed the work of the famous Renaissance artist lead them to make important discoveries about themselves, about each other, and about what it means to be special.

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From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Literary Qualities

Konigsburg makes the most of her limited number of characters by using a narrative structure that works on several levels at once. First, the narrative that Mrs. Frankweiler sends to her lawyer Saxonberg frames the story. As a commentary from this wealthy, eccentric elderly woman to her counsel, the story develops Mrs. Frankweiler's character, for she learns that loneliness is a high price to pay for eccentricity, on her part, or for stubborn righteousness on Saxonberg's. She teases him about his extreme propriety throughout the narrative, informing the reader both of her feelings for him and of the fact that this story has, after all, ended, for she can tell it to Saxonberg. Thus, although Claudia and Jamie's future remains uncertain, it obviously will be nothing very tragic. Mrs. Frankweiler's tone belies a bad end.

On the level of the story itself, choosing Mrs. Frankweiler as narrator enables Konigsburg to maintain both the objectivity of a third-person narrator and the intimacy of a first-person one. Mrs. Frankweiler can offer an objective perspective since she meets Claudia and Jamie only at the end of the story, but she can also give the reader all the subjective detail of a first-person narration because she demands a complete account from Claudia and Jamie as payment for giving them a ride home.

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From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Social Sensitivity

Unlike many adventures, Claudia and Jamie's story involves no struggle between good and evil; no real, threatened, or even potential violence; and no suspense in the usual sense. Nevertheless, many parents may be concerned over some of the actions these two take: running away, stealing coins from the museum fountain, trespassing in the museum, and causing a great deal of pain to their parents. It is important for younger readers to remember that this story presents a kind of childhood fantasy, not a realistic narrative. In fact, many aspects of the story are unrealistic in the extreme: the two children live in the Metropolitan Museum for a week or so, wandering around at night among various exhibits, not to mention splashing about noisily in the restaurant fountain, without setting off an alarm or alerting a guard. Similarly, Claudia's plans work too well. No one ever questions a sixth-grade girl and a third-grade boy on their own in New York City, for example, and the two adventurers manage to rent a post office box in Grand Central Station without having a permanent address or an adult to sign the form. So despite the shady nature of some of Claudia and Jamie's activities, the story is clearly all in fun, and no one could realistically be tempted to treat it as more than a lark.

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From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Topics for Discussion

1. Claudia plans to run away because she was "bored with simply being straight-A's Claudia Kincaid. She was tired of arguing about whose turn it was to choose the Sunday night seven-thirty television show, of injustice, and of the monotony of everything." Are these and the other things Claudia complains about—housework, babysitting duties, insufficient allowance, and so forth— enough justification for running away from home?

2. Claudia tells Jamie that she "didn't run away to come home the same." What does she mean? Does she "come home the same"? Why or why not?

3. How realistic is this story? Which events seem believable and which seem unlikely?

4. Claudia chooses Jamie because she feels that they complement each other perfectly: "She was cautious and poor; he was adventurous and rich." Are there other ways in which Jamie and Claudia complement each other? What makes them such a good team?

5. Mrs. Frankweiler knows immediately that Jamie has been cheating at war, the card game he plays with his friend Bruce. How does she know that? What does her intuition say about the similarities between her and Jamie?

6. Mrs. Frankweiler seems to understand Claudia better than Claudia understands herself. What makes Mrs. Frankweiler so sympathetic towards Claudia?

7. Mrs. Frankweiler goes to quite a bit of trouble and inconvenience to write this account of Claudia and Jamie's experience and to send it to...

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From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Pretend that while Claudia is at Mrs. Frankweiler's house she writes a letter to her parents, explaining to them why she ran away and what she has learned, and asking their forgiveness for the worry she has caused them. What would she say in the letter?

2. Look up the Metropolitan Museum of Art in library books and make a map of Jamie and Claudia's adventures there, using the map that Konigsburg provides as a starting point. This activity can be extended by using a map of Manhattan and tracing their activities through the streets of New York.

3. Jamie and Claudia run away from home, causing their parents to worry; trespass in the museum; and steal coins from the fountain. What, if anything, makes these actions all right? Also, they are never punished for doing these things. Does this demonstrate that the world Konigsburg writes about is different from the real world? How?

4. A rich woman who likes to keep to herself, Mrs. Frankweiler is a secretive person. Why, then, does she agree to see Claudia and Jamie, and what makes her so interested in their adventures?

5. When Claudia returns home, in what way will her life differ from the way it was before she left? How will it be the same? Considering these similarities and differences, was running away worth the trouble?

6. Claudia seems to identify with the statue, Angel. Compare Claudia and Angel and explain why Angel attracts Claudia so strongly.

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From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Related Titles / Adaptations

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was adapted to the screen in a 1973 movie of the same title. Later reissued as The Hideaways, the film was directed by Fielder Look and stars Sally Prager, Johnny Doran, and Ingrid Bergman as Mrs. Frankweiler.

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From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler For Further Reference

Jones, L. T. "Profile: Elaine Konigsburg." Language Arts 63 (1986): 177-184. Biographical and character analysis.

Kirkpatrick, D. L., ed. Twentieth-Century Children's Writers. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983. Includes highlights of Konigsburg's life, a bibliography of her writings, and a brief critical summary.

Konigsburg, David K. "Elaine L. Konigsburg." Horn Book 44 (August 1968): 396-398. Biographical background.

Konigsburg, E. L. "Acceptance of Newbery Award." Horn Book 44 (August 1968): 391-395. Konigsburg expresses her views on writing for young people in her acceptance speech.

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