From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Characters
by E. L. Konigsburg

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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Konigsburg works the magic of this story with a very limited set of characters. In fact, only three are even brought onto the stage for the readers to see. Claudia and Jamie occupy center stage, while Mrs. Frankweiler, the only other major character, acts as the narrator. Although he never actually appears in the story, Claudia and Jamie's grandfather, a lawyer named Saxonberg, is the intended recipient of Mrs. Frankweiler's narrative and the object of her pointed barbs—as well as, perhaps, her affections. None of the other characters— Claudia's parents, other brothers, and schoolmates—function as more than background.

She looked at Jamie and her eyes widened, "M for Michelangelo!"

Claudia's adventure springs from one of the major themes of the book. The eldest of four children, the eleven-yearold protagonist is beginning to develop a sense of herself. But when she takes a look at her family situation, she feels that no one recognizes her budding maturity. She still has to do the same old jobs and participate in the same old arguments about which television show to watch. Her high achievements in school, to her way of thinking, are largely unacknowledged.

By running away to the museum and depriving her parents of her services, Claudia intends to prove her value. When she is gone, they will realize how much she meant to them, how badly they used her, how much she has grown. Although correct in her assessment that she is maturing, Claudia has not by any means learned all she needs to know. In fact, her journey to the museum ultimately shows her that what matters is not so much what others think of her, but what she knows about herself. Jamie and Angel act as the two primary agents who bring her to this realization.

Claudia makes a practical decision when she chooses Jamie as her companion, for he possesses wealth—more than twenty dollars, most of which he has acquired by cheating at the card game of war. Jamie will be the money man, and Claudia the idea person, the planner who will ensure their escape and enable them to enter and live in the Metropolitan Museum. As the story progresses, however, Claudia realizes that Jamie's value goes beyond his money. The two work together to take care of ordinary needs like eating, sleeping, and doing the laundry, tasks that are transformed into adventures by their residence in the museum. Their absolute dependence on one another forces Claudia to realize that family means more than just the arguments over the television and the resentments over babysitting. She begins to find that cooperation can bring pleasure and that being relied on—and relying on someone else—is part of living.

In fact, this cooperation blooms into trust and allows the two to succeed in their quest for the true origins of Angel. The museum has bought Angel at an auction for only...

(The entire section is 733 words.)