First quarter: chapters 1-6
American Gods is an… interesting book. After reading that it was about the conflict between the ‘old gods’ (Odin, Ibis, etc.) and the ‘new gods’ such as media and technology, I assumed that it would be a deep commentary on the American people. After reading the first thirty or so pages, it became obvious that this story doesn’t have one underlying meaning beyond that we worship stocks and technology. You can, of course, force a universal meaning upon it, but it’s not quite the same:
“Through the main character of the novel, Shadow, Neil Gaiman conveys to the reader that a struggle can destroy one’s individuality until they are simply a pawn of greater forces.”
“American Gods conveys that the American people are increasingly controlled by their insatiable appetite for material goods rather than values such as strength and valor, which are represented by the old gods.”
The meaning simply isn’t as obvious or powerful as that of To Kill A Mockingbird or Animal Farm.
That’s not to say I haven’t been enjoying the book. The plot is engaging, if you can get over the sheer randomness of it. The title is magnificent. From the first page of the novel, the characters are engaging, if not relatable. But then the story just keeps on moving. I would summarize the first quarter, but so much happens that it’s kind of a blur. But hidden inside the weird plot twists are some really powerful statements or simply entertaining interactions. Things like how Mr. Wednesday robs a bank. Or when Mr. Wednesday says, “This is the only country in the world… that worries about what it is” (Gaiman 105). The United States is so large and diverse that there isn’t one thing we can point to and say: “That’s American”. We, as Americans, are simply a conglomeration of every part of the world. Or when Shadow makes it snow simply by thinking of snow. Does it mean that through belief we can accomplish anything? Does it mean that reality is simply what we believe it to be? At first I thought, probably not. It probably means nothing–simply an anecdote. But the more I think about the many stories contained in American Gods, the more amazing and meaningful the book is.
By far the most interesting part is at the very end of the first quarter. Gaiman writes, “Then the lights went out, and Shadow saw the gods” (116). Like the rest of the book, this could be interpreted in a multitude of ways. It could be the obvious: that the lights were turned off, and Shadow literally saw, with his eyes, the gods. It could mean that if we look beyond the obvious parts of our life, we are actually surrounded and controlled by gods such as honesty and bravery and intelligence. That’s the best part of the book: that it’s so open to interpretation. The next few pages were equally great. Descriptions such as: “Shadow turned, slowly, streaming images of himself as he moved, frozen moments, each him captured in a fraction of a second, every tiny movement lasting for an infinite period… He was looking at Mr. Nancy, an old black man with a pencil moustache… and, at the same time, in the same place, he saw a jeweled spider as high as a horse, its eyes an emerald nebula, strutting, staring down at him; and simultaneously he was looking at an extraordinarily tall man with teak-colored skin”… (Gaiman 117-118). It’s like Percy Jackson on steroids but also with good writing. You could take so many different meanings from it (not to mention that it’s astounding imagery), but the important part is simply that, so far, American Gods is an amazing story.