The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

by Michael Chabon

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What is the significance of the golem in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay?

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In Jewish folklore, a golem is traditionally a creature created out of mud to protect Jews from pogroms, which are violent riots carried out with the purpose of persecuting or killing a despised minority. For centuries in Europe, Jews were often on the receiving end of such sporadic outbreaks of violence, usually during periods of economic distress when the local Christian population looked for a convenient scapegoat to blame for widespread poverty or crop failure.

In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon gives us an interesting twist on the golem legend. In the midst of Nazi oppression, the golem cannot perform the task for which it was originally constructed; the old magic has gone, and with it the sense of deep spirituality that once bound the Jewish community together.

Now that the golem has lost whatever power it may have had, it needs to be protected by the Jews of Czechoslovakia, not the other way round. In Chabon's story, the golem is sent to Lithuania for safe-keeping, and Kavalier smuggles himself out of Nazi-occupied Prague in the coffin in which the golem is being transported.

Once he's safely arrived in America, Kavalier replaces the magic that the golem once had with the power of his imagination, creating a comic-book hero called The Escapist, a man who can get himself out of any situation, no matter how tricky or dangerous. Kavalier's exercise in wish-fulfillment suggests a similar motivation behind the creation of the original golem.

In creating his comic-book character, Kavalier is effectively carrying out an act of remembrance, recreating the traditional practices of his ancestors, albeit in a radically different form. In other words, Kavalier is keeping the substance of the golem legend alive through the power of his imagination.

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