Date of Award

4-2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

English (M.A.)

Department

English

Abstract

Escape sounds like a ram’s horn throughout Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, looming large in the lives of his mostly Jewish characters. Only one, Josef Kavalier, is intimately tied to and escapes the Holocaust which destroys his entire family. The horrors of the Holocaust, however, cast a shadow that hovers over nearly every chapter of Chabon’s 636-page novel. For most of the novel’s other characters, intent on plotting their own escapes, the events of the Holocaust remain 4,000 miles away. Americans, Jew and gentile, politically astute and clueless, laborer and capitalist, prefer to maintain a safe distance in mind and in fact. While the Jews of Europe struggle to escape from the ghettos, boxcars, and death in the camps, the Americans of Kavalier & Clay take refuge in glamorous New York City with its big bands, surrealist art and the Golden Age of comic books. Critical opinion about how the Holocaust should be portrayed and to what end, varies widely. The work of Jewish-American fiction authors, such as Michael Chabon, who were not alive when Allied forces liberated the camps, has generated new and thoughtful avenues of criticism. “Will this lead to a trivialization of Holocaust memory,” Christoph Ribbat asks, “Or will these popular genres open the discourse of memory by making it more democratic and more accessible?” (206). At the heart of scholarly work surrounding Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel are questions about his depiction of the Holocaust in a work that is not ostensibly about the Holocaust, but one which never escapes it. In this thesis, I explore Chabon’s critique of America’s response to the plight of Europe’s Jews through the exploits of the Escapist, a golemlike comic book character designed to kill Hitler and defeat the Nazis. I examine his purpose in framing his novel within the Golden Age of the comic book industry and the avant-garde cultural life of New York City while the Nazis created a swath of deadly destruction in their march 7 across Europe. Central to my thesis is the theme of escape in the lives of the major characters as well as its role as an established policy in America with regard to the war in Europe. This thesis expands the critical conversation about Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, most particularly within the theme of escape, which has not been widely explored. I argue that Kavalier & Clay makes an important contribution to Holocaust literature in its portrayal of America’s effort to escape from an early and effective response to Hitler’s attempt to annihilate the entire Jewish population. I also contend that Kavalier & Clay is a novel that constitutes a thoughtful tribute to Holocaust victims through the frames of a comic book and a hero called the Escapist; it is a call to Americans to consider their responsibility in the face of today’s ongoing worldwide atrocities and civil injustices. Readers of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay are encouraged to look more deeply into the Holocaust for signposts and lessons as America continues to face questions of moral and ethical responsibility for its promises of liberty and justice for all. Through his novel, Chabon stimulates a unique and valuable understanding of the Holocaust’s place in post-World War II America.

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