The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay Themes

Michael Chabon


Evident in the superhero they create, escape is an important theme in Joe and Sammy's lives, and thus for the novel. Escape has the power to save and enchant but is simultaneously a leaving and an arriving, the former a thing of sadness, the latter, one of joy. It seems though, that for the better part of the novel, Joe understands only the former. He is trained in the art of the escape, an ability that he will use throughout his life, starting when as a young man he performs a real-life, death defying escape, by getting smuggled out of Prague before the Nazis have a chance to send him to a concentration camp. Joe's escape happens because of his magic—the slights of hand and feats of wonder that he is able to call forth at will—and faith, for it is in the casket of a religious figure, the Golem, that Joe makes his passage. His escape, like his magic, his artwork and the religion that created the story of the Golem, is a thing of beauty with an aesthetic value that goes beyond the physical and emotional benefits.

The idea of escape in this novel involves physical escape from dangerous situations, as Joe finds out, but it also includes the more intangible kinds of escape, like the kind Joe attempts when he flees into the army when his younger brother Thomas is killed. This "escape" seems to be a misguided one, for he leaves behind Sammy and Rosa—who has not had the chance to tell him that he is about to be a father—to try and find a way to escape the guilt that he feels over his own survival and his impotence in trying to save his family from destruction. His despair results from his understanding of escape only as a leaving behind, and not how it requires a new sense of self that can cope with the grief and create a new life. As a result, he unwittingly leaves behind the nascent family that he does have the power to protect and encourage in an attempt to avenge the one that he only has the power to protect through memory. His new family grows despite his absence, though in an awkward way; Sammy marries Rosa so she will not have to raise the child alone, and together they move to the suburbs of Long Island, where their participation in the Levittown phenomenon masks the skewed nature of their family unit.

An integral part of the American dream seems to be the family, and throughout the novel, this need for family is an important theme, expressed by all of the main characters. The family units that are...

(The entire section is 993 words.)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay Themes

Chabon’s overarching theme in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is escapism: escape from tyranny, escape from reality, escape from death. Joe Kavalier, trained as an escape artist by a master Ausbrecher has an ability to escape and survive that pushes the limits of reality, even a fictional reality. In the day-to-day grind, Joe escapes the painful reality of the growing war in Europe by battling Nazis on paper. His more dramatic escapes include the River Moldau, Nazis in Prague, the fountain of the Hotel Trevi, a happy life with Rosa, carbon monoxide poisoning, Antarctica and madness, Sammy and the rest of his family, and finally—the most difficult of all—his self-imposed exile. Joe is the novel’s real-life escapist.

Sammy Clay, although much more grounded and practical than his cousin Joe, finds escape from his life in daydreams: traveling with his father; providing for his mother and grandmother; being a famous and respected publisher. Sammy’s master feat of escape is from his own homophobia. After a few happy, clandestine months with his first and only love, Tracey Bacon, Sammy turns his back on romantic love and spends the next thirteen years in proverbial chains. These chains of shame burden Sammy. When Senator Hendrickson effectively springs the last lock and exposes Sammy’s homosexuality in public forum, he is not humiliated but relieved. Bacon is gone from this world, but Sammy is finally ready to pick up where he left off and move to Hollywood.

Escapism is a precarious indulgence—too much and one is beyond rational judgment; too little and one is mired in real world minutia. Comic books from their inception were understood to offer a fantastical escape, generally geared toward young boys and girls full of hope to change their situation in some way. Joe and Sammy’s superhero, the Escapist, is thus a metafictional device for comic books in general.

Guilt is a feeling of responsibility for wrongdoing. Sammy, reserved about spending money after growing up on modest means, feels guilty about indulging in the luxuries he and Joe can afford when they are at the height of their success. The excess money itself is a physical representation of guilt which must be experienced any time money is spent. Sammy buys a beloved and costly phonograph over which he never stops feeling guilt. Despite his weak legs, he rarely takes a taxi. More devastating is the guilt Sammy feels regarding his homosexuality. In the world of this novel, there is a strong taboo against homosexuality, which makes it even more difficult for Sammy to come to terms with his sexual...

(The entire section is 1099 words.)