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 Lithuanian giant, Joseph hides in the coffin and manages to flee the country. Where sanctioned channels fail him, Joeseph learns that he can trick his way into achieving goals.
Catherine Nichols says that “… the carnival was a time to acknowledge the appetites of the body and to fulfill them, indulging in food and drink before the abstinence of the Lenten period.” (Nichols)
And so the characters indulge in the carnivalesque periodically to find satisfaction. The United States, firmly isolationist, is adamant in staying out of World War II. Joeseph Kavalier, safe in America while his family rots in Europe, is enraged by this and seeks some way to find satisfaction. Yet what can he do through legitimate channels? The politicians and general public have not yet been roused enough by Hitler’s outrages to commit to war, so he must find a subversive way to fight his battle. A classically trained artist, Kavalier finds no trouble in beating out the crude comics of the day with his magnificent work and achieving a massive audience amongst influential minds. His super hero, the Escapist, is a living embodiment of the Carnivalesque. Gimp legged in normal form, the hero can become strong when he dons a magic key of...