From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

by E. L. Konigsburg

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Themes and Characters

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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 $225, and if the statue turns out to be Michelangelo's, it will be worth more than $2,250,000. The money impresses Jamie, but the mystery interests Claudia more. Together, the two research the statue's origins, but they get nowhere until Claudia decides to go to the source, to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who sold the statue collection. Learning about the statue becomes all-important to Claudia, for she begins to identify with Angel. Both the statue and the girl have a secret, something about them that no one else knows, something that affects their value, their worth.

Claudia's interview with Mrs. Frankweiler makes her realize what she knew all along, that worth is inherent, not external; that is, she and Angel...

(This entire section contains 733 words.)

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have a certain worth whether others recognize their value or not. Mrs. Frankweiler knows this, for when she sold the statue she possessed documents proving it to be Michelangelo's "lost Cupid." Mrs. Frankweiler knows that the secret itself is worth more than the celebrity that comes with public recognition, and she teaches that lesson to Claudia and Jamie. They become heirs to the secret, but only if they keep the secret long enough to inherit the documentary proof from Mrs. Frankweiler.

So Claudia goes home at last, secure in the knowledge of her own worth as a person and ready to participate in life on a more adult level. More importantly, she has become aware of the real secret inside her, and that knowledge has been worth all the trouble.