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American Gods Question 2: America and Shadow 
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Post American Gods Question 2: America and Shadow
American Gods Reading-group Discussion Question Two

Shadow begins the novel as a convict, and ends it a different man. How does the novel exploit the idea of America as a place where immigrants and exiles, both physical and emotional, can reinvent themselves? What makes Shadow himself so compelling and complex?



Sat May 16, 2009 7:30 pm
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Well, I have not finished the book yet but I can say that Shadow strikes me as compelling for the reason of Hope. I sat thinking about why his character is so intriguing and comforting...but it comes down to the fact that no matter what happens to him or what bad things he inadvertently or otherwise does...he still maintains this hopeful and innocent nature. Like no matter what is going on at that moment you could still see him settling down in his bath with his pink fluffy robe and not moving from that comfortable life, if only life would let him be. I think this is a state of being that many find themselves in. We want the ultimate comfort and relaxation of our fantasies but life is a struggle and things rarely work out. We do things that we aren't proud of and we stray far from our ideal. Shadow's compass is his american dream of working class folks everywhere and he just can't seem to make it stick. I identify with this highly.



Tue Jun 16, 2009 12:24 am
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poettess wrote:
Well, I have not finished the book yet but I can say that Shadow strikes me as compelling for the reason of Hope. I sat thinking about why his character is so intriguing and comforting...but it comes down to the fact that no matter what happens to him or what bad things he inadvertently or otherwise does...he still maintains this hopeful and innocent nature. Like no matter what is going on at that moment you could still see him settling down in his bath with his pink fluffy robe and not moving from that comfortable life, if only life would let him be. I think this is a state of being that many find themselves in. We want the ultimate comfort and relaxation of our fantasies but life is a struggle and things rarely work out. We do things that we aren't proud of and we stray far from our ideal. Shadow's compass is his american dream of working class folks everywhere and he just can't seem to make it stick. I identify with this highly.


I think that Gaiman is showing how Shadow has will and desire. He wants to live a normal life, relaxed and peaceful, but the fact that he missed time while in prison puts him in a subordinate postion (i.e. to Wednesday) in society. Shadow's optimism also helps him to change from a convict to a newer person.



Wed Jun 17, 2009 5:39 pm
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Shadow is a compelling and complex character because throughout the book, he is reinventing himself. While he was in prison, he was exiled from society. After his return, he begins to rebuild himself under the guidance of Mr. Wednesday. He does not reclaim any of his old personality – his work at body building, his wife, his home. Instead, he abandons them and seeks reinvention on the road as he travels from place to place with Mr. Wednesday. This is complex and compelling because the reader is watching a grown man regrow himself in front of them with the help of the awesome powers of the gods.

However, the gods themselves have become emotional exiles – brought to America and forgotten by many. So, they, too, must reinvent themselves. In order to maintain their meager offerings, they work in slaughterhouses, in funeral parlors, and as prostitutes. However, they have reinvented themselves – found new ways to stay alive in this country.

The book itself exploits the idea of reinvention of self because everyone in the book is allowed to do it. Everyone of the characters, god and human, are allowed the option to become something more than what they were, to rise above themselves, and they take it. [spoiler]Shadow raises himself from a criminal to someone who stops a god war. Laura becomes selfless and sacrifices herself for Shadow and to stop the war. Mulligan was able to kill Heizalman and move on. [/spoiler]

This is all exploitation because it does not happen that way in real life. In real life, people are rarely given the chance to completely reinvent themselves, and if they do, they rarely do it in such a positive manner.



Fri Jun 19, 2009 3:56 am
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Hello Krysondra, welcome!

Krysondra wrote:
Quote:
Everyone of the characters, god and human, are allowed the option to become something more than what they were, to rise above themselves, and they take it.


I don't know if I see it this way. The gods are forced into positions that are demeaning, they become servants, there roles have reversed. I feel a great sense of discrimination, and oppresion. The gods are minorities after all. They are trying to survive, anyway they can.

Krysondra wrote:
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He does not reclaim any of his old personality – his work at body building, his wife, his home. Instead, he abandons them


Shadow was left without choices. His wife and his work were taken from him. He was left with nothing. I like your observation, Shadow does reinvent himself. But, I get the sense, that once he met Mr. Wedsday, his fate, or destiny was sealed. Maybe his ability to choose was taken from him as well.



Fri Jun 19, 2009 10:35 am
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Suzanne wrote:
I don't know if I see it this way. The gods are forced into positions that are demeaning, they become servants, there roles have reversed. I feel a great sense of discrimination, and oppresion. The gods are minorities after all. They are trying to survive, anyway they can.


The gods in the book may seem oppressed, but they have still choosen to reinvent themselves as servants - so to speak - rather than to fade away. Thus, they are allowed the option to become more than dead gods, and they take it, even it does demean them. So, they do rise above what they would become, perhaps not far, but they do rise.

Suzanne wrote:
Shadow was left without choices. His wife and his work were taken from him. He was left with nothing. I like your observation, Shadow does reinvent himself. But, I get the sense, that once he met Mr. Wedsday, his fate, or destiny was sealed. Maybe his ability to choose was taken from him as well.


This is a very interesting point, Suzanne. What if his fate is sealed when he meets Mr. Wednesday? If his destiny is sealed, then wouldn't there be less reinventing on his part due to a lack of free will? What does everybody think?



Fri Jun 19, 2009 11:36 am
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I'm at the part where Shadow has settled into Lakeside, and he certainly is trying to reinvent himself there. He's attempting to have friendly relations to the Chief of Police, and he claims that he's trying to remember everyone's name. The cold, perhaps a symbol for his "ex-con" status, hinders his efforts though.



Fri Jun 19, 2009 5:20 pm
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Krysondra wrote:
Shadow is a compelling and complex character because throughout the book, he is reinventing himself. While he was in prison, he was exiled from society. After his return, he begins to rebuild himself under the guidance of Mr. Wednesday. He does not reclaim any of his old personality – his work at body building, his wife, his home. Instead, he abandons them and seeks reinvention on the road as he travels from place to place with Mr. Wednesday. This is complex and compelling because the reader is watching a grown man regrow himself in front of them with the help of the awesome powers of the gods.

However, the gods themselves have become emotional exiles – brought to America and forgotten by many. So, they, too, must reinvent themselves. In order to maintain their meager offerings, they work in slaughterhouses, in funeral parlors, and as prostitutes. However, they have reinvented themselves – found new ways to stay alive in this country.

The book itself exploits the idea of reinvention of self because everyone in the book is allowed to do it. Everyone of the characters, god and human, are allowed the option to become something more than what they were, to rise above themselves, and they take it. [spoiler]Shadow raises himself from a criminal to someone who stops a god war. Laura becomes selfless and sacrifices herself for Shadow and to stop the war. Mulligan was able to kill Heizalman and move on. [/spoiler]

This is all exploitation because it does not happen that way in real life. In real life, people are rarely given the chance to completely reinvent themselves, and if they do, they rarely do it in such a positive manner.


Hello Krysondra, welcome to the discussion of American Gods. I haven’t seen people use the spoiler bracket, so will try it to discuss from the perspective of having read the book. The following explains the conclusion of American Gods. [spoiler]Shadow is Baldr, the son of Odin. The Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, compiled in Iceland in the 13th century, but based on much older Old Norse poetry, contain numerous references to the death of Baldr as both a great tragedy to the Æsir and a harbinger of Ragnarök.

Shadow dies in Wednesday’s place on the world ash tree Yggdrasil, in the eastern USA, as a squirrel whispers Ragnarok in his ear and gives him water in a walnut shell, as a deliberate retelling of the Norse trope. The Norns have made the rope ladders on which Shadow is hung.

Part of this framing of the American story against the Norse mythology is to present an American everyman, who due to bad luck has nothing, who follows his fate towards a confrontation between the real powers represented by the different myths. With the idea of the Gods of new technology as in conflict with the forgotten pagan Gods of mythology, Gaiman is framing an apocalyptic clash between old and new. However, Baldur/Shadow finds himself a reconciling and redeeming contact between old and new, as the Minnesota grifters Odin and Loki are shown up as lacking balance.

The ladders of Yggdrasil made by the Norns have a striking astrophysical parallel. Valhalla has 540 gates. Seeing these gates as years, this image maps to a braid of three ladders up a cosmic tree, with rungs every sixty years. Interweaved like DNA spirals, our solar system has just such a system of three encircling ladders whose rungs are formed every 59.8 years. The conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn, the period also central to Mayan time reckoning in the Katun, are every 19.9 years, and every third conjunction is a third of a sign (10°) further around than the one sixty years before. After three rungs (179 years), Jupiter and Saturn meet up again with Neptune, one sign past their last meeting, an event that never occurred in the twentieth century but will happen on Jupiter's next meeting with Neptune in 14 years. Of course this ‘unknown unknown’ planet Neptune was unknown before its modern discovery, but it adds a neat twist to the old parallels of Jupiter and Saturn with the myths of the structure of time. The three rope ladders of Baldr on Yggdrasil, leading to Valhalla, are actually the cyclic interaction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn.

Edited to add: The three ladders formed by the twenty year Jupiter Saturn conjunctions have rungs separated by 60 years – eg 1960 to 2020. The ladder can be modelled and has an angle from the vertical of 10° as noted above. Nine of these 60 year Jupiter Saturn rungs = 9 x 60 years = 540 years. In American Gods, the Norns weave three rope ladders, each with nine rungs, around the world tree to string up Shadow/Baldr, matching the model of the solar system’s main two planets. Hence the three nine rung rope ladders of Yggdrasil add to a number of years, 540, in their Jupiter-Saturn incarnation, which matches the number of 540 gates of the Norse Heaven Valhalla. The hanging on the tree is what Wednesday points towards in their mead and spit deal when he says Shadow must do his vigil. [/spoiler]



Fri Jun 19, 2009 9:53 pm
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Hello, Robert, and thank you! I was using the spoiler brackets as I wasn't sure where many people were in the book. I can quit using the tags if a lot of people are through with the book and ready to discuss in full.

[spoiler]I understand that keeping the vigil was one of the many things that Shadow agreed to do with the mead. I agree that it certainly was a large part of what made him so strong and so complex by the end of the book. He had walked with gods, talked with gods, and acted as a god.

What I wonder about it how much self-determination Shadow has in his own reinvention if his deal with Odin sealed his fate, so to speak. I like to think that he reinvented himself as a man doing what he had agreed to do, holding up his end of the bargain whatever it took. However, it could be that holding up his end of the bargain was what actually reinvented him, which, to me, is much less interesting.[/spoiler]



Sat Jun 20, 2009 2:23 am
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I personally appreciate the spoiler button since I haven't finished the book yet. I have gotten to the lakeside thing and I agree about the "reinventing" aspect after he had that dream about being born again from the bowels of the earth...totally makes sense.



Sat Jun 20, 2009 8:10 pm
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Post Shadow's maturation
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What makes Shadow himself so compelling and complex?


After reading the entire book, I don't think that Shadow's fate was sealed by the Gods. I don't think he realized who Wednesday was when he first took the job that was offered to him. He just went along with it, because that is what he was used to doing. I think he had a very laid-back personality and didn't question other people's actions or motives. Shadow was a follower, not a deep thinker or an individualist. He did not seem to have the strength of character to say no to something illegal. That's what got him into jail in the first place, I think.

As the book continues, I think Shadow is really repulsed by the Gods (as I am), and does not want to be like them. I think he undergoes a psychological maturation, especially at the end of the book when he absolutely has to find out what is in the klunker car on the ice in Lakeside. He could not let it go, as he probably would have at the beginning of the book. I think he really redeems himself at this point in time, and puts an end to the "sacrifices" of Hinzelmann, even though Hinzelmann had been a friend to him and had previously saved his life. By the end of the book, I really liked Shadow for doing the right thing (which appears to be so difficult for so many people).



Sun Jun 28, 2009 10:06 pm
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