The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay Essay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay Essay

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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a story of defiance, of successfully breaking and escaping the oppressive mores of society with skill and tenacity, and an embodiment the novelistic tradition of disregard for the monolithic structure on which our world is based. The book is set up around the theme of “the carnivalesque”, and shows how this rebel attitude can be taken up like a mantel, so a character can make change and find happiness in an oppressive world. These characters come to realize that the carnivalesque is the true way to live, and it is only when they wear the mantle full time that they find satisfaction in their life.

In the German occupied Prague, the Jews have been earmarked for hardship and extinction at the hands of the Nazis. Joseph Kavalier, a young man of a bohemian Jewish family, spent his youth under the tutelage of a great escape artist. Fascinated with slight of hand tricks, stealth, and lock picking, Joseph is taught all manner of clandestine skills. It is with these abilities, that he is able to revel in the carnivalesque and escape where others are constrained by their insistence on following the rules.

The great protector of the Jews is the golem of Prague from ancient myth, a fantastic example of the Carnivalesque in the form of a Cabalic defiance of power. With the knowledge of how to activate the Golem lost to time, the secret society charged with protecting it must smuggle their massive charge out of Prague before the Nazis discover its location. Young Joseph, already hoodwinked by a bribed Nazi emigration offical, sees in the Golem his opportunity to escape. With the Golem dressed in an enormous suit and posed as a dead...


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...tions that determine the structure and order of ordinary . . . life are suspended . . ." (Kohl)

Oppressed as he is, Joe fails to embrace the carnivalesque and so fail his family and his love ones. Only by escaping his place in the order and suspending the rules can he manage to make change.

As you can see, the Carnivalesque is key to these characters. Though Sam finds that by putting on the cloak of the Carnival, he finds satisfaction, Joe, despite his excellent talents, fails to make the final leap of logic in time to make meaningful change. His family dies and he goes without his loved ones for years because of his failure to take up the mantle of the Carnivalesque. It is not until he returns, soiled as his repuation is, to his old love and son, where their strange new family unit is questioned and mocked by the world, that he finally finds his satisfaction.

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