A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

by Dave Eggers
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Character Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 798

Dave Eggers is the main character and narrator of his memoir. He tells the story of his parents’ deaths and what happens to the siblings afterwards. Dave has an older brother Bill, whom Dave says is a Republican who works in a think tank. Dave’s older sister Beth is in law school throughout much of the memoir. She is supportive of Dave’s efforts in raising their youngest brother, eight-year-old Christopher, nicknamed Toph. Beth comes in and out of the picture, but mostly in a supportive role.

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The true main characters are Dave and Toph. Most of the time, Toph is his real age and reacts to Dave’s idiosyncrasies as any other eight-year-old would. Sometimes, however, Dave adds maturity and advanced insight to Toph’s conversations, making Toph more of an alter ego for Dave rather than a young boy.

Dave sets up house in a very distracted way. Dishes pile up. Food goes stale on a living room side table. And hallways are measured for their ease of use as runways for sock-slides. But there is always a deep undercurrent of love between the two brothers. Dave might not act like a father, not the traditional kind at least, but if any eight-year-old could create his ideal father, Dave might well fit the model.

Toph, as a character in this memoir, is always hidden behind Dave. Readers, in other words, experience Toph as the child Dave is raising, rarely hearing Toph speak for himself. Toph is always seen through Dave’s version of him. Toph appears to be a well-behaved boy, who wants to succeed in whatever he does, whether it is throwing a Frisbee or fitting in with the kids in his school.

Dave, on the other hand, has little ambition to fit in—quite the opposite. Dave seems to want to do everything so he does not conform. Fitting in is boring, leading to the same results that are taking American society down the drain. Dave is constantly trying to deconstruct whatever is in front of him. He gets together with friends and tries to come up with new ideas about how to look at culture and how to stir it up.

Dave’s friends include a young man named John . This is not this man’s real name, Dave informs his readers. Dave uses this alias to protect his friend, who is often suicidal. In addition to Dave having to run to John whenever John gets depressed and threatens to kill himself, Dave has conversations with John that in some ways are similar to the occasional conversations that he has with Toph. Dave uses Toph to reflect on Dave’s life and what he is doing with it. He uses talks with John in the same way. John accuses Dave of using John’s private story to add drama to Dave’s memoir. John is a rather pathetic character whom Dave accuses of feigning suicide to get attention. At one point, toward the end of the book, Dave finally tells John that he is no longer going to support him....

(The entire section contains 798 words.)

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