The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

by Michael Chabon

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What does the orange symbolize in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay?

Quick answer:

In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, the orange represents the essence of American promise and plenty as the color of sun and harvest. Sheldon Anapol's giving Joe the orange is significant, as Anapol is the person to give Joe and Sam their golden opportunity to fulfill their dream and ambition. However, Joe's observations on the subway about the orange show us that for him, it symbolizes his anguish over his family's fate.

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The symbolism of this token given to Joe, the recent immigrant from Nazi-occupied Prague, is in its vivid, outsized Americanness and how that contrasts with Joe’s association of the fruit with the horrible conditions at home and his concerns about his doomed family.

We’re told such a specimen would “seem a prodigy in Prague, monstrous and illicit.” It’s just too big and bright and hopeful for Joe’s mood, but its aroma does provide him some relief on the stinking, suffocating subway. “Illicit” means “forbidden” or “taboo,” and since Joe has just learned that basic foodstuffs like fruit are now being rationed for the Jewish people at home, he feels guilty about being the one to make it out and be surrounded by so much abundance.

Orange is the color of golden dreams , the color of sunshine, the color of American health and vitality, compared to the cold, gray skies and cold, gray stone of Eastern Europe. In the Old World, the orange was considered an “exotic” fruit and a luxury treat beyond the means of most, and even in Joe’s time, oranges were probably not an everyday item to be given and to carry around in one’s pocket. Anapol is the one who gives Joe and Sam their big break and from whom they will learn important life lessons for better and worse, and so there is also the suggestion of the orange as the fruit of “golden opportunity.”

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