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American Gods Chapter One: Shadow Meets Wednesday 
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Post American Gods Chapter One: Shadow Meets Wednesday
Chapter One starts with Shadow, the protagonist and narrator, in jail, awaiting release. He discovers his wife Laura has been killed in a car accident, and meets Mr Wednesday, who is sitting next to him on the plane back to his home town Eagle Point. Wednesday mysteriously follows when Shadow flees the plane.

Characters introduced in Chapter One include

Low Key Lyesmith, a fellow prisoner described as a grifter from Minnesota. Low Key is a strange character. Fond of gallows humour, he introduces Shadow to Herodotus (p4-6), and the line 'Call no man happy until he is dead'. (I thought that was Solon?)

Sam Fetisher, who delivers the great line"Big storm coming. Keep your head down Shadow-boy. It's like ... Tectonic plates. It's like when they go riding, when North America goes skidding into South America, you don't want to be in the middle." (p11)

A buffalo man in a dream, who tells Shadow he is 'where the forgotten wait' and must 'believe everything'. (p19)

Wednesday, wearing a vanilla cream suit with a silver ash tree tiepin, drinking Jack Daniels, and offering Shadow a job. Wednesday tells Shadow "You have nothing waiting for you" at home (p23), an intriguing use of the term nothing, which Gaiman uses in a very ambiguous way, as in the question on the back cover - Is Nothing Sacred? Wednesday says Shadow could be the next King of America.

Gaiman says Shadow "did not believe in anything he could not see", and "Anything electronic seemed fundamentally magical to Shadow, and liable to evaporate at any moment. He liked things he could hold and touch." (p17) This is setting the scene for Shadow seeing some strange things.



Mon May 25, 2009 11:17 pm
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Post chapter one
Hello Robert:

I'm about half way through "American Gods", I stopped and re read chapter one to get a better feel of Shadow. I found some interesting things. Gaiman certainly has a very deliberate writing style. I think the first chapter sets up the book very well and he is an excellent story teller.



Wed May 27, 2009 10:58 am
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As I'm nearly finished with an English class about analyzing and interpretation of literature, I naturally, when reading chapter one, wonder why Shadow is described so dully, and, throughout the first few chapters, thinks very shallowly. Does he represent mainstream America that has forgotten about the gods like Odin? I'd find it interesting how Gaiman would make the protagonist someone like this



Fri May 29, 2009 9:32 pm
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xtremeskiier114 wrote:
As I'm nearly finished with an English class about analyzing and interpretation of literature, I naturally, when reading chapter one, wonder why Shadow is described so dully, and, throughout the first few chapters, thinks very shallowly. Does he represent mainstream America that has forgotten about the gods like Odin? I'd find it interesting how Gaiman would make the protagonist someone like this


Hi skii (love that double i)
I don't find Shadow dull at all. Gaiman is at pains to set Shadow up with nothing, emerging from prison having lost his wife, his job and his sense of purpose in life. His response to the surreal events he encounters seems believable, because he is a normal person. As he comments in Chapter Two, (p67) Shadow wondered why a dream of a museum could leave him terrified yet he seemed to be coping with a walking corpse without fear. Yes he does represent mainstream views, notably that he does not believe anything he cannot see. Gaiman is suggesting there is a hidden reality which the mainstream ignores. Shadow's normality is important to open up an engagement between the visible and the invisible worlds.



Sat May 30, 2009 5:16 am
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Post Shadow
Hello xtremeskiier114:

So happy to see you again.

I wondered the same thing. Why would Shadow be choosen? What I find interesting is his crime. Gaiman touches on it lightly, he only says that Shadow served time in jail to spare Laura, and that three people were involved in the crime. Shadow payed for the crimes of others. Shadow is sacrificied to save others from their sins. This sounds a bit familiar. What do you think Robert?



Sat May 30, 2009 7:46 pm
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Post American Gods: A Novel- by Neil Gaiman
I read this book and I really like how Gaiman borrows from traditional Anglo-Saxon stories and mythology. It is a very masculine book with action hero types of scenes and snappy dialogues. Well picked.



Sun May 31, 2009 12:24 am
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Post Re: Shadow
Suzanne wrote:
Hello xtremeskiier114: So happy to see you again. I wondered the same thing. Why would Shadow be choosen? What I find interesting is his crime. Gaiman touches on it lightly, he only says that Shadow served time in jail to spare Laura, and that three people were involved in the crime. Shadow payed for the crimes of others. Shadow is sacrificied to save others from their sins. This sounds a bit familiar. What do you think Robert?
Hi Suzanne, hope your ankle isn't too bad. Were you reading the high protein homework edition? :)

Yes, the veneer of normality regarding the characterisation of Shadow conceals a persona that grows steadily more complex as the plot develops. This theme you note of sacrifice of the innocent to expiate the sins of others directly fits Shadow's involvement in a crime for which he was not an instigator but for which he took all the rap. This could of course be read as an allusion to Jesus Christ, who did just that in the Gospel story, although Gaiman is at pains to ignore the Judeo-Christian Gods. We may need to look into Norse myth to find other examples, but lets leave that until we discuss later chapters when Shadow is fleshed out more.



Sun May 31, 2009 12:35 am
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Post Re: American Gods: A Novel- by Neil Gaiman
Patrick Kilgallon wrote:
I read this book and I really like how Gaiman borrows from traditional Anglo-Saxon stories and mythology. It is a very masculine book with action hero types of scenes and snappy dialogues. Well picked.

Hi Patrick, thanks and welcome to Booktalk. I will be interested to hear your thoughts on American Gods. No question, Wednesday is a cool dude, and the action is gripping and well paced. I liked Wednesday's comment that charm can be learned, as it still gives me hope! He really is the ladies man. There is also a strong feminine side to this book, for example Bilquis the Queen of Sheba illustrates a raw female energy which is contemptuous of misogynist losers, and all the main characters have more depth than is usual in action novels. Goddesses such as Kali insert a more complex vision of gender into the action plot, with Gaiman seeming to lay blame for the forgetting of the Gods at the feet of modern patriarchal culture.



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Thank you. I look forward to when you all reach the scene in which Wednesday displayed his cool wit when taken for a ride in the limo with a small type villian. Will be dipping into that when you started discussing that chapter.



Sun May 31, 2009 8:48 am
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Post Shadow
Quote by Suzanne: Shadow payed for the crimes of others. Shadow is sacrificied to save others from their sins. This sounds a bit familiar. (Don't know how to box it).

I agree with Suzanne that Shadow, the only redeeming person in the book as far as I am concerned, is a depressed masochist and has been sacrificed to save others and with Robert that Shadow may be a symbol for the good benevolent Jesus Christ, who becomes the modern God for Christians (if you believe like I do).

I have read about 150 pages of this book, and am having a hard time getting through it. It is so sinister and violent in places; I cannot say that I like it. People and animals are treated disrespectfully, as though life has no meaning.

I see a theme of good versus evil running through this book, and I think that good will win. In my opinion, Wednesday is the symbol of evil and Shadow is the symbol of good, although Shadow certainly is not perfect (drives the get away car for the bank heist but does not rob the bank).

Could the old evil Gods and their requirement for sacrifice be the result of the way man thought back then? What I mean is, that perhaps during evolution, man changed his way of thinking (became civilized) and therefore the evil Odin ( God of death and war) who had to be appeased by the ultimate sacrifices (human and animal life) has evolved into our modern benevolent God who is satisfied with worship (or not).



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Suzanne E. Smith:
Quote:
I see a theme of good versus evil running through this book, and I think that good will win. In my opinion, Wednesday is the symbol of evil and Shadow is the symbol of good, although Shadow certainly is not perfect

I agree with the good vs. evil theme. I think Gaiman may also be hinting that good and evil may need to exist in confluence. This can be seen where 1.)Shadow works for Wednesday and sort of adapts his ways...2.)evils gods and "good"gods are both represented in the book



Sun May 31, 2009 8:52 pm
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Post Re: Shadow
Suzanne E. Smith wrote:
Quote by Suzanne: Shadow payed for the crimes of others. Shadow is sacrificied to save others from their sins. This sounds a bit familiar. (Don't know how to box it). I agree with Suzanne that Shadow, the only redeeming person in the book as far as I am concerned, is a depressed masochist and has been sacrificed to save others and with Robert that Shadow may be a symbol for the good benevolent Jesus Christ, who becomes the modern God for Christians (if you believe like I do). I have read about 150 pages of this book, and am having a hard time getting through it. It is so sinister and violent in places; I cannot say that I like it. People and animals are treated disrespectfully, as though life has no meaning. I see a theme of good versus evil running through this book, and I think that good will win. In my opinion, Wednesday is the symbol of evil and Shadow is the symbol of good, although Shadow certainly is not perfect (drives the get away car for the bank heist but does not rob the bank). Could the old evil Gods and their requirement for sacrifice be the result of the way man thought back then? What I mean is, that perhaps during evolution, man changed his way of thinking (became civilized) and therefore the evil Odin ( God of death and war) who had to be appeased by the ultimate sacrifices (human and animal life) has evolved into our modern benevolent God who is satisfied with worship (or not).
Hello Suzanne, warm welcome to Booktalk, and thank you for joining the discussion on American Gods. (If you want to quote somebody else's post, just click on the "quote" button at the top right of their post).

You are right that the book is sinister at times, and I think Gaiman is deliberately disturbing, for example the sweet zombie. It is no wonder it won the Bram Stoker Award, named after the author of Dracula!

Your comments well illustrate the moral dilemmas raised by the book, including the confusion about what is good and what is evil. Wednesday clearly behaves in an immoral way, stealing, seducing, defrauding, lying and possibly worse. He sets up a moral framework at the outset in which he claims that the forgetting of the old gods is evidence of America's moral bankruptcy. Some readers would cheer at this, but some would be horrified.

The portrayal of the fat boy in Chapter Two is intended to caricature the moral depravity of mainstream American life, centred on Coca-Cola, donuts and gee-whiz selfish technology. The moral frame here is that Wednesday represents nature, and if only America could get back in touch with nature it would start to heal its depravity.

However, as you imply, if 'nature' demands blood sacrifice, then it is not a very appealing moral teacher. It opens the question whether and how Christianity is a more evolved moral system than the beliefs it conquered. Wednesday claims at one point that our indifference to road safety is evidence of our continued instinctive blood lust, and he could say the same thing about the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction.

Could Christian belief in the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross, with the cannibalism inherent in communion, just be a sublimated way of expressing the desire to kill the scapegoat and express ancient religious needs which are present in an overt obnoxious form in the pagan Norse beliefs about Odin?

We have quite a bit of debate on Booktalk about Christianity, and the site has been led by atheists and rationalists, so it is interesting to see you critique American Gods from the perspective of a Christian believer. My own view is that Christianity has very much to offer, but also has many errors, including its derision towards other religions, and its lack of recognition of its links to other religions. Building a natural theology drawing from all human heritage, recognising that the story of Jesus is at the centre, would produce a more honest and authentic engagement with religious issues, as I see it.

I really like the way Gaiman characterises the pagan Gods, trying to give them a contemporary believable personality that is in line with their myth. It is confronting, and encourages people to think about what they believe. Odin is a rather unpleasant character, although powerful and talented. Shadow may seem to be a Christ figure, but you have to remember that the motif of the crucified Saviour was actually widespread in pagan religion.

Part of Gaiman's agenda here seems to be a refusal to engage with the entirety of Hebraic and Greco-Roman thought. Perhaps he thinks these traditions are still so dominant that they have caused other rich and complex traditions to be forgotten, so he wants to give the others their time in the sun.

What did you mean by your comment "People and animals are treated disrespectfully, as though life has no meaning"?

Robert



Mon Jun 01, 2009 5:42 am
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Post American Gods
Quote:
People and animals are treated disrespectfully, as though life has no meaning.


Robert, thank you for your wonderful reply. I wish I knew more history and more about different religions, so that I could better interpret this novel.

Please see the quotes below from Czernobog to understand what I meant about the lack of respect for human and animal life in this book.

Quote:
I get a job in the meat business. When the steer comes up the ramp, I was a knocker. There was an art to it. To the blow (using a sledgehammer). Then, in the fifties, they give us the bolt gun. Now you think, anybody can kill. Not so. It still takes skill.

If I win (checkers), I get to knock your brains (Shadow's) out. With the sledgehammer. First you go down on your knees. Then I hit you a blow with it, so you don't get up again.


In my opinion, Czernobog has depersonalized the act of murder and is a sociopath. He treats Shadow as though Shadow was another cow (most normal people could never even kill a cow--I could not). Czernobog appears to lack a Theory of Mind (from Primates and Philosophers), and is incapable of showing empathy, sympathy, fairness, or taking another's perspective.

Suzanne S.



Mon Jun 01, 2009 9:34 pm
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Post Shadow
From "American Gods",

Quote:
If I win (checkers), I get to knock your brains (Shadow's) out. With the sledgehammer. First you go down on your knees. Then I hit you a blow with it, so you don't get up again.


Hello Suzanne:

This will make more sense to you once you get further into the book.

I love Czernobog, he reminds me of an old crochety grandpa. When he gets together with his old friends, I can imagine them playing shuffle board.

The slaughterhouse discription is graphic, but very realistic. I remember reading "The Jungle", Sinclair Lewis. I have never forgotten it. I'm thinking that cows were brought up, because they are held sacred in India. Something held sacred in one country, is bashed in another.

I also enjoy Robert's comments. Great job Robert! Also, thanks for providing the supporting links, very entertaining.

I saw Shadow and his sacrifice to save others very interesting. I do not know of any other culture that made sacrificies for this reason, but as Robert pointed out, Gaiman is avoiding not only Christianity, but other established religions. I need to reasearch Norse mythology more.

One question I have concerns the three sisters. I see them more as the Auroras. Morning, Evening and Midnight. They certainly have a great responsibility.



Mon Jun 01, 2009 10:01 pm
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Post American Gods
Suzanne, thank you for your reply. I also have read The Jungle and almost became a vegetarian afterwards. I want to become a vegetarian but keep putting it off. I know it is hypocritical to say that I don't believe in killing cows and chickens when I eat beef (a little) and chicken. I don't feel that badly about eating fish.

Do you think we will eventually evolve to the point where we consider it morally wrong to kill cows and chickens and other animals for food? That there will be laws that punish those who don't conform? I think it is a possibility, but not ever in my lifetime.



Tue Jun 02, 2009 7:20 pm
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