Sid Fleischman

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Student Question

What is the author's purpose in writing Escape: The Story of the Great Houdini?

Quick answer:

Fleischman’s purpose is to tell the reader about Houdini's life and make the reader interested in Houdini's work. He writes in the third person and emphasizes Houdini’s unique abilities. For example, he describes Houdini as a “commanding wizard” like Merlin, which is an intentionally ambiguous description aimed to intrigue the reader. He also mentions early on that Houdini pushed limits in his work, implying that the purpose of this text is to explore how he did this.

Expert Answers

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The author Sid Fleischman’s purpose in writing this text is to provide a general overview of Harry Houdini’s life. He wants to get readers excited about the possibilities of someone as creative and mysterious as Houdini. Fleischman writes in the third-person point of view, which allows him to recount Houdini's life story from an outsider perspective.

Fleischman’s purpose becomes clear right at the start of the book. Consider how he talks about Houdini in chapter one: “He Was Born, But Where?” Just from the title of this chapter, the reader can tell that this book will be about the details of Houdini’s life. After describing the scene in which Houdini’s pajamas were auctioned off, Fleischman then introduces him as “the most commanding wizard to burst upon the world scene since Merlin performed his parlor tricks during the misty days of King Arthur” (Fleischman 2). Fleischman’s use of descriptive language here, like calling Houdini a “wizard” who “burst” and recalling the legends of Merlin, already aims to intrigue the reader about who Houdini was.

After introducing Houdini’s artistry, Fleischman goes on to foreshadow the events of his life. At the end of the first chapter, he writes, “As the years passed, he could read his voluminous scrapbooks, and they were telling him that flinging off handcuffs was no longer making headlines ... He understood that fame needed constant renewal, and he went at it with ingenuity and furious energy” (8). This tells the reader that the nature of Houdini’s career changed over time and suggests that Fleischman will focus on these changes throughout the book. This description also stresses how Houdini was a very unique person and sparks the reader's interest in what Houdini's ingenious new ideas were.

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