How did the main character change throughout The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem traces the lives of Dylan Ebdus and his friend Mingus Rude as they try to negotiate life in Brooklyn and maintain their friendship amongst strong racial divides and expectations. Sometimes, Dylan reveals self-awareness, recognizing futility in some childhood activities such as when he watches the kids in his class sit" blank-eyed in invisible cages." He considers the fact that he has "never learned less in his life" and recognizes his mother's peculiarities. When he discovers a ring, with all the apparent potential it holds, it does not, as Dylan hopes when he and Mingus try crime fighting, solve any of their problems. 

Even as a child, Dylan knows that all is not as it seems as "the universe was reportedly exploding in slow motion," something similar to Dylan's own life experiences. The potential for disaster is ever present and just waiting to happen. Dylan's mother leaves and his father is distant, and these are some of the things that shape Dylan's character. As an adult, Dylan will always strive to understand his childhood and what he considers his solitary life. 

Dylan's development, or lack thereof, seems to stem from having been something of an experiment for his mother and her "beautiful, stupid, and American" attitude. Dylan admits that it always scared him and perhaps his father, alone and pensive had the better idea. It is all almost Dylan's excuse for turning out the way he does. His only teachers, in the absence of any real parenting are drugs and music. Dylan recalls how, as a child, music signified something for him, made his life real and not abstract whereas in college, that same music is too naive for him and does not reflect reality.   

Towards the end of the novel, the reader is aware of just how cynical Dylan has become when he talks of  " Utopia, the show which always closed on opening night." Dylan's only expectation is disappointment and the almost certainty of him being dismissed from college. However, there is a complacency at the end; a mutual understanding between Dylan and his father. 

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The Fortress of Solitude

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