The New York Trilogy Themes
by Paul Auster

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The New York Trilogy Themes

The New York Trilogy is a series of three detective novels: City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986), and The Locked Room (1986). The stories are not independent of one another and have since been published together in one volume.

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All three novels are set in New York at different time periods and involve writers and detectives. Two significant themes which should be considered when reading the three books are manipulation and obsession.

In all three novels, the main characters are manipulated into situations, find themselves trapped, and don’t have the strength of will to extricate themselves before their lives are ruined. In City of Glass, Daniel Quinn struggles to withdraw himself from the Stillman case. When he eventually does, it is too late for him psychologically. In Ghosts, Blue continues with an assignment which takes him to the brink of insanity and causes him to lose his fiancee. In The Locked Room, the writer becomes trapped as he reviews the works of his old childhood friend Fanshawe. He is so preoccupied with this, and with proving that he is better than Fanshawe, that he almost loses his sanity. He is only saved from this when his wife tells him that they must consider Fanshawe dead in order for their marriage to survive.

Obsession is another very important theme which runs throughout Auster’s three New York novels. In all three, the main characters become obsessed with the cases which they are working on. This obsession causes them to lose their own identities as they cut themselves off from the world. In City of Glass, Quinn ends up homeless for a number of months. He then becomes the subject of an experiment which leaves him forever psychologically changed. In Ghosts, Blue becomes obsessed with Black. And, in The Locked Room, the writer is so obsessed with Fanshawe that he suffers a breakdown.

Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Auster’s relentless use of psychological doubles unifies The New York Trilogy and underscores his concern with contemporary humanity’s obsession with self and uncertainty about the validity and value of that self. Quinn’s initial relief in being someone else, a mask he can hide behind, turns into the anguish of losing his grip on reality. Blue decides he has to deny Black’s existence to retain his own identity, a solution similar to that reached by Fanshawe’s friend. The latter acknowledges, however, the impossibility of discovering the true self, remarking that “at times we even have a glimmer of who we are, but in the end we can never be sure, and as our lives go on, we become more and more...

(The entire section is 663 words.)