(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is rich with characters. The two protagonists of the title are fully supported by a cast that is vast and diverse, filled with fictional and historical figures alike. Indeed, the history in which the story situates itself is a character as well; historical events assist in shaping the path of the narrative and historical figures such as Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Eleanor Roosevelt, Estes Kefauver and many others make appearances of various significance in the novel, often to help make a point about Joe or Sammy or by coming to the plot's aid. Seeing the premiere of Citizen Kane and meeting Orson Welles prompts Joe and Sammy to transform the comic book genre and create a new form for the medium, essentially paving the way for the graphic novels we know today. Max Ernst appears at the moment Joe is deciding whether or not he should know Rosa better; Eleanor Roosevelt eliminates a very real obstacle that bars Tommy's passage. Estes Kefauver and his hearings allow Chabon to make a slight jab at the paranoia-fed persecution that was running rampant in the 1950s, while he also demonstrates the extent to which television played a part. Likewise, the real comic book makers themselves— Stan Lee, Gil Kane and Frank Pantaleone, are just three—make an appearance, offering keen insight into their own profession. The way in which all of these "real life" characters interact with the fictional ones creates a conversation between the novel and history, often providing a kind of critique, implicit or otherwise, of American culture and the people who participated in it, in this historical moment.

As for the fictional characters themselves, Joe and Sammy, at the center, balance each other in many ways. Sammy, son of immigrants, but born and bred an American, provides Joe, and consequently the reader, with a specific look into America of the 1940s and 1950s. He is a proud American, ready to assimilate, especially because he sees that as the first step toward making his fortune and a name for himself. One clear indication of Sammy's character is his favorite place in New York City—the former location of the World's Fair. Fitting for the kind of optimist he is, the fair, entitled "Building the World of Tomorrow," encapsulated the way in which the imagination could create a hope that the world could be a better place, a hope that seems to be very much alive in Sammy throughout most the book. Sammy often thinks ill of himself, unworthy of love, either from Joe or from Tracy Bacon, but he never doubts the chances that the world gives him; he does not squander the opportunities...

(The entire section is 1079 words.)