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Transient Religion In American Gods Essay

2276 words - 10 pages

The world of Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods is a place where gods are brought into existence by the belief of humankind but also where they fade away into nothingness if that belief dies. All the deities from human myth and religion are able to exist, but only if there are people who are around who truly worship them. In the words of Wednesday, one of the gods of the story, “That’s what it’s like for my kind of people…we feed on belief, on prayers, on love” (Gaiman 225). In American Gods, Gaiman emphasizes America’s position as a place without any unique religious culture to call its own. Instead, it is country filled with the religions and myths of the many ethnic groups who carried their own culture with them when they arrived to the New World. American Gods is not just a novel about gods in America, however. This is also a story about how the gods reflect the best and worst attributes of American society. American Gods explores America’s lack of original religious traditions and analyzes the nature of religious belief in America.
The main portion of the book is about convict Shadow Moon. The story begins with Shadow learning that he will be released from prison early, but only because his wife Laura and best friend and employer, Robbie, have died in a car wreck. On the flight to his wife’s funeral, Shadow takes a very vaguely described job offered to him by a peculiar man named Wednesday. Events irreversibly take a turn toward the supernatural as Shadow realizes his boss is something more than human. As the story progresses, Shadow learns that he is actually working for Odin, an old god brought over by a group of Vikings in America’s distant past. He encounters many supernatural beings throughout his work for Odin and learns that all is not well with the gods. It turns out that Shadow is actually aiding Wednesday in collecting a fighting force of America’s old gods and mythological creatures for an approaching war, and he becomes part of the war between these “old gods” and the “new gods” of “technology, media, and information” (Gaiman 107-108; Roncevic and Bay 153). American Gods also features a number of shorter installments within the main story that appear under the title “Coming to America” that chronicle the arrival of new deities to the country. Not all of these stories play a major role in the events of the novel, but they are all important in reinforcing the idea that gods have been brought to America for ages. All the parts of the narrative work together to provide a framework that Gaiman uses to critique the nature of melting all religions together.
In order to understand the nature of the criticism the novel offers on American society, it is necessary to look at both the viewpoints from which Gaiman wrote American Gods. Neil Gaiman was not born in the United States, so he has an outsider’s perspective of American culture (Wagner, Golden, and Bissette 330). How this view carries into his can be seen in his novels, as Camus...

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