The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

by Michael Chabon
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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay Characters

The main characters of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay are Joe Kavalier, Sammy Clay, and Rosa Saks.

  • Joe Kavalier is a Czech Jewish man who emigrates to Brooklyn during the rise of Nazism. He is a talented artist and illusionist with a penchant for escaping.
  • Sammy Clay is Joe’s cousin and comic collaborator. He is a skilled storyteller and a compassionate friend. He struggles with being gay in a homophobic culture.
  • Rosa Saks is a talented artist. She and Joe are lovers, but after Joe leaves she marries Sammy and starts a family with him.

Characters

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Last Updated on March 16, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1182

Samuel Klayman/Sammy Clay

At the start of the novel, Sammy Clay is a teenager living with his mother in Brooklyn. He is ambitious and wants to be seen as successful. He has told his mother, for example, that he is employed as an illustrator at Empire Novelty when he is in fact an inventory clerk. He has talent, but it is not until he meets Josef Kavalier that he is able to identify where those talents really lie. He is a competent and imaginative scriptwriter whose work captures the popular imagination. Joe spurs him to take action towards the dream he has long been contemplating—that of creating comics—but Sammy’s ambition and decisiveness are the driving forces that bring the Escapist to life. 

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Sammy is willing to take risks and push for what he wants in the working world, but in his personal life, things are different. Both Rosa Saks and Joe guess at his sexuality before Sammy has accepted it himself. His tentative steps out of the closet with Tracy Bacon only take him so far. When he is sexually assaulted and almost arrested, all for being gay, he retreats and again conceals his sexuality. Following the death of Bacon in the war, Sammy marries Rosa, partly to protect himself. It takes his being forcibly outed on national television for Sammy to be freed from the prison he has built for himself. Sammy’s story ends on a hopeful note as he sets out for LA to begin a new screenwriting career there, unburdened by falsehoods and ready to live an authentic life.

Josef (“Joe”) Kavalier

The central comic-book hero created by Kavalier and Clay, the Escapist, is paralleled by Joe Kavalier, a real-life escape artist. As an adolescent in Prague, Joe trained as a magician and escapist before escaping to the United States to avoid the looming threat to Czech Jews. Having also trained at the Academy of Fine Art in Prague, Joe’s skills are quickly recognized by Sammy, and the cousins collaborate on comic books that quickly become successful.

Joe is fixated on the idea of freeing his family from the increasingly dangerous Czechoslovakia—all the more so after he hears that his father has been killed. He is deeply wounded when his brother, Thomas, is lost at sea on his way to New York. Joe escapes again, leaving his lover, Rosa, and his partner, Sam, for the war. Dogged by shame and guilt, Joe feels he can neither spend the money he has accrued nor return to Rosa after the war. However, his love for his son, Tommy, proves powerful enough to dissolve his self-imposed isolation. He makes contact with the boy, resulting in a reunion with Rosa and Sammy.

Rosa Saks 

Rosa is Joe’s lover and Sammy’s close friend and eventual wife. In the early sections of the novel Rosa is a Bohemian figure who lives with her larger-than-life father, Siegfried Saks, also known as Longman Harkoo. An artist, Joe is initially impressed with her drawings and “dreambooks.” She and Joe quickly become lovers, and when Thomas Kavalier is set to move to New York, Rosa is willing to become a parent figure to him. However, she does not get a chance to tell Joe that she is pregnant with his child before Joe hears the devastating news of Thomas’s death and leaves.

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Rosa marries Sam, partly to protect her name, and partly to protect him. There is evidently a close bond between the pair, but it is not romantic. Rosa remains devoted to Joe in his absence, and when he returns, she is still very much in love with him. There is some conflict in her mind: she does not want Sammy to leave them and feel ostracized, but her delight at being reunited with her lost lover and their son, Tommy, is clear.

Tommy Clay 

Tommy is the child of Rosa and Joe but is raised by Rosa and Sammy. He is named after Joe’s brother to honor his memory. He has his father’s flair for magic and secrecy. He is able to sneak into New York to see Joe for illusionist lessons for many weeks before he is discovered.

Tracy Bacon 

Sammy meets the handsome Tracy Bacon when Tracy is cast as the Escapist in a radio adaptation of the comic. Sammy is immediately drawn to him without knowing why. Tracy initiates a romantic relationship between the pair, and Sammy quickly falls in love. Tracy is far more open about his sexuality than Sammy is. He tries to convince Sammy to come to Hollywood with him, where the atmosphere is more accepting of gay men, but Sammy is unsure. This opportunity disappears when Tracy is killed in the Second World War, and Sammy continues to live in the closet for another twelve years. Bacon continues to represent a glimmer of hope in Sammy’s love life, an idealistic vision of what might have been.

Bernhard Kornblum 

Bernhard Kornblum, a skilled illusionist, is a significant figure in Joe’s childhood and appears to him in dreams several times throughout the novel, reminding him of the need to “escape.” In Prague, Kornblum was Joe’s magic teacher, and he helped to smuggle Joe out of Prague alongside the figure of the Golem.

Sheldon Anapol 

Sheldon Anapol is the owner of Empire Novelty, which becomes Empire Comics. He is a complicated character. While he is responsible for giving Joe and Sammy their big break, he also ensures that he will benefit from their comics’ successes far more than they do. Despite this, Anapol has a fondness for Joe and Sammy and relents from time to time over monetary matters. He is not above lying to protect himself, and he asks Sammy to lie for him on the stand in order to protect himself from a lawsuit.

Carl Ebling 

Carl Ebling runs the Aryan-American League and becomes fixated on the anti-Nazi thrust of the Escapist comics. At this time, Joe is attacking Germans all over New York, and a feud starts up between him and Ebling. Ebling believes himself to be a masked figure called the Saboteur, and he tries to kill Joe at a bar mitzvah where he is performing. This plot is ultimately foiled, and Ebling is imprisoned.

Longman Harkoo/Siegfried Saks 

Longman Harkoo, or Siegfried Saks, is Rosa’s father. An eccentric man, he holds vast parties at his home. A dealer of surrealist art, he is an associate of Salvador Dalí’s. He is aware of his daughter’s relationship with Joe and supports it. He quickly offers Joe the opportunity to become part of his family.

Ethel and Bubbie Klayman 

Ethel Klayman is Sammy’s mother and Joe’s aunt. She is the backbone of the family and cares about both her son and her nephew. She is pleased to see them doing well but ultimately believes that comics are an inferior art form. Bubbie, her mother, lives with them. She is extremely aged and often curmudgeonly.

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