Thursday, November 3, 2011

Quinn & Street People

Since I was unable to discuss a passage during class, the passage I would have chosen to talk about was the Quinn’s entry in his red notebook regarding the “bums.” Even before his own realization that he had become a bum, I had begun noticing the parallels between what his own “experiment” was turning into and the things that he wrote about the people on the street. There were so many similarities between him and the people he wrote about, yet there was one main difference: he was voluntarily choosing to live his life on the street. He had a nice apartment, a fairly steady income plus what he was receiving from the Stillman’s through the real Paul Alter.

As for the similarities, the first part of Quinn’s notebook entry that later applied to him was the way that the bums did not acknowledge passerby’s. These people were as Quinn said, “defeated”, but he chose not to interact with other people in an attempt to remain invisible to them. This similarity also distinguishes him from the other bums. He notes the people using all of their different talents in order to get by. We as readers are well aware that Quinn has an outstanding talent for writing. If he had been just like the other bums, he would have used this talent to earn some kind of income for himself. But in fact, this was not necessary since he was the one who put himself on the streets, leaving a pleasant apartment and filled bank account left behind.

The next moment of the notebook entry that stood out was when Quinn told the story of the man playing the clarinet behind the wind-up monkeys. “To be inside that music, to be drawn into the circle of its repetitions: perhaps that is a place where one could finally disappear.” (Auster, 107) This moment has a striking resemblance to the moment when the ticking of the church clock became like Quinn’s own pulse. “Quinn lived by the rhythm of that clock, and eventually he had trouble distinguishing it from his own pulse.” (Auster, 113) Not only had Quinn become totally lost in the ticking of the clock to the point where it seemed to be a part of his being, as the clarinet music was to the man playing it, but the idea of time in the two situations was the same. Quinn found it harder to leave the clarinet player the longer he was there, the same way that he grew more and more attached to his space in the alley.

Another moment during which Quinn shows the same traits as the bums in his notebook was the part when he writes about the man with drumsticks. He says, “Perhaps he thinks he is doing important work. Perhaps, if he did not do what he did, the city would fall apart. Perhaps the moon would spin out of its orbit and come crashing into the earth.” (Auster, 107) Quinn’s entire life during his time in the alley revolves around keeping Peter Stillman safe. In the same way that the drumstick man thinks the world would end if he stopped tapping, Quinn believes that an extra hour of sleep or a run to a diner could be the difference between life and death for Peter Stillman.

Lastly, even though Quinn did not write about it in his red notebook, there is one final similarity between him and the bums: what they are working for. For the most part, those people were just doing what they could to get through each and every day. Quinn thought he was working for an important cause. He thought that each of his days spent on the street was allowing Peter Stillman to live under great protection, when in reality; the threatening Stillman had already died. Quinn, like the other street people, was working so hard for no end result other than torn-up, dirty clothing, scruffy hair, and no money or a place to live. Eventually his similarities between himself and the street people turned him into one. He was no longer a well off writer choosing to live on the streets in order to fulfill a duty or a promise. He became a “lost soul” in that “particular hell.” To describe the situation we left him in at the end of the book with one of his own sentences, “Even though they seem to be there, they cannot be counted as present.”


  1. The argument and the supporting paragraphs for the argument were laid out nice,, but I felt that the 3rd paragraph was unnecessary for your overall argument since it diverts to a topic that is not relevant to your argument the way you put it. There is some substance in it that can be used to support your argument but you need to interpret it in that way somehow. Also check back on the facts of the book. The fact that Quinn is receiving a fairly steady income through Auster is not true since he can't cash the check as its in Auster's name and also for the fact that he states that he wasn't doing it for money.

  2. What I liked: I liked the individual ideas/comparisons/analysis, in each paragraph. I didn't like all of them equally, but I felt each one offered an interesting insight into the text. My favorite was your brief note that he, unlike the real street people, holds himself aloof from the rest of them. My own time interacting with street people has been limited and scattered, but the few real interactions I've had have always made their interconnectedness clear. I liked the ideas in each paragraph, though.

    What was lacking was development or continuity. You have this series of interesting, worthwhile observations. But what does it mean, or why does it matter, that Quinn is both like and unlike other bums, or street people?

    At the very end, you seem to conclude, tentatively, that he has become one of them. But what does this have to do with the actual end of the novel, where he steps into a fancy (but empty) apartment, and begins writing again?

    In other words, you need more continuity, and the obvious way to do that is to relate the problem or the question of how/why/in what way he becomes a bum to something about (the meaning of?) the novel as a whole.