American Gods by Neil Gaiman: What Is Gaiman Saying About Sacrifice, and How Does He Illustrate His Perspective on Sacrifice Throughout the Novel?
The main character of American Gods, Shadow, is first introduced while he is in prison. He is described as a large quiet man of an unknown race. The audience is not given details of his features, or insight into the inner workings of his mind. After he is released from prison, he starts out on a pre-destined path that whisks him across the nation in preparation for a war of the gods. Through all of the unexplainable, he watches and says nothing. He rarely questions the actuality of events he witnesses, and never tries to run from the adventures. There are only a few times the audience is allowed to see that Shadow is somewhat bitter about all that he has seen. Shadow himself admits that he is numb to life after becoming aware his wife was unfaithful, "anyway nothing's really surprised me since Laura...since I learned she was screwing Robbie...that one hurt...everything else just sits on the surface". Neil Gaiman intentionally does not describe Shadow very much. He uses Shadow's vagueness to draw the reader in, and help them relate to the main character.
Gaiman has not only come up with a brilliant plot, he has also executed it in a laudable manner. While other storytellers are overly blunt with describing key events and others are too vague, Gaiman strikes a balance between being engaging and having a plot the reader can comprehend. Being engaging is to let the reader figure things out, being comprehensible is to tell the reader key the details. Being both is imaginably difficult, but Gaiman manages to strike a balance. Gaiman includes various hints about important plot events throughout the book for readers to figure things out should they choose. However, these details are revealed more explicitly later for all readers to get a good idea of the plot. Particularly noteworthy is figuring out the identities of the god’s characters. Readers can choose to treat the secondary gods as simple characters, or they can figure out their true identities based on their often-changed names and personalities. Though this and his foreshadowing, Gaiman offers something to all types of readers, those simply interested in a good story, or those looking for a deeper experience. All these characteristics of his work make Gaiman a master storyteller. His fundamentals of a good story are solid; he’s come up with a genius premise, and an unpredictable plot to go with it. Unlike some other fantasy novels, his characters are well developed and far from flat, and he’s adapted the genre to our modern world. While many novels of this genre are written only to provide an interesting story, American Gods does this but add far more. In a way, how Gaiman wrote the novel can be related to the theme of the novel itself. We as a society are so obsessed with quick entertainment that our books have become hollow plots designed to appeal to our raw senses of action and romance. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is very deliberate and offers the rich theme and character development lost by the serial novelists of the contemporary era. The value of the book lies here, and is the basis for recommendation.
As people migrated to America from all corners of the Earth, they carried their stories and myths with them. The legends and religions of the immigrants are represented here in the form of ancient Gods and Goddesses. Gaiman's novel American Gods examines what it means to be American by looking at the cultural legacy of America through its mythical origins and how traditional values have evolved into contemporary ideals. One question that Gaiman touches on in this novel that intrigues me is: What does it mean to be American? This is a question everyone in America might have been asked at least once. It often stumps us, as we are not really sure how to answer. Can you be American if you arrive on a boat with a Green card? Must you be born in America? According to one of the protagonists of this novel, Wednesday, "Nobody's American. Not originally." Alternatively, according to the American government, you are American if you were born in the United States or obtain legal citizenship. Gaiman is from the UK, though he has been living here for several years. During the writing of this novel, he took a cross-country journey visiting many of the places that he writes about. He was getting a first hand experience of America. In reading Gaiman's An Introduction to the Tenth Anniversary Edition (2011), I got the sense that his travels were an exploration of American culture. In chapter 11 Wednesday is trying to convince Easter to join their war against the new Gods while they are having espresso in a cafe (Cave, Damien and Todd Heisler, 2015). During their exchange, Wednesday asks their waitress to tell him what Easter celebrates. The waitress replies, "I don't know about any of that Christian stuff, I am Pagan." Easter tries to convince Wednesday that people do still celebrate her original Pagan holiday. To that Wednesday points out to Easter that, " I would agree that millions upon millions of them give each other tokens in your name, and that they still practice the rites of your festival, even down to hunting for hidden eggs. But how many of them know who you are?" (274). Ultimately, Easter admits she knows this and , with a heavy heart, agrees to join Wednesday. Americans are not actually celebrating her true spirit because they have forgotten the ancient stories and celebrations associated with the original Pagan holiday of Ostara (Campbell, Joseph and Bill Moyers, 1988). Why don't people know that when the Easter bunny brings eggs, it is symbolic of the extreme fertility of Spring? How might our country be different if we did teach our children to celebrate spring, and the sun, and the new growth of the Earth in Spring-time?
For the most part, in both novels, Neil Gaiman uses his approach of diction, his sometimes abnormal ideas and views, and his use of metaphors to produce a humorous yet authentic reader experience of the unknown and obscure, all the while maintaining a factual and intrinsic plot structure. And these are all characteristics of books that are very prevalent throughout not only American Gods and Anansi Boys, but many of Gaiman’s other novels as well. His biggest strength is by far his ability to play with phrasing and wording to talk directly the readers heart, instead of their mind. He is both discreet and subtle when mentioning sometimes radical ideas and views about language and religion, which creates a very educated and effective experience for the reader, which later entices them to learn more about the concepts that they read about.
Campbell, Joseph and Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. New York: Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1988. Print.
Cave, Damien and Todd Heisler. "The Way North." New York Times [New York, NY] 24 June 2014. N.p. Web. 12 April, 2015.
Gaiman, Neil. "American Gods: Letter to Reviewers." Neil Gaiman. 9 February, 2001. Web. 18 April, 2015.
Gaiman, Neil. American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition (Author's Preferred Text).