Thursday, November 3, 2011


The novel "City of Glass” is a confusing combination of characters. The main character is so lost in himself that he begins picking up personalities from other characters. He draws most of his inspiration from the two original Peter Stillmans in the novel. It is often quite confusing trying to figure out exactly who Daniel Quinn is at all times.

In the beginning of the novel we learn that Dan has lost his wife and child and has closed himself off from the world. He makes his living by writing mystery novels about Max Work under the assumed name of William Wilson. Quinn never got all that engrossed in Wilson’s character, for it was just a name, but he often got lost in the character of Work. Quinn admits, “Work had become a presence in Quinn’s life, his interior brother” (p. 6). Quinn dedicates half of his year to writing these tales about Max and is bound to get attached. Max seems to be the only source of entertainment and possibly friendship that Quinn has left at this point. It seems that by writing these stories he is able to, at least for a few month, become someone other then himself, but after finish the novel he is always able to come back down and become Daniel Quinn again.

The next character that Quinn claims to be is Paul Auster. With the first phone call he denies it, but for some reason with the second phone he embraces this new character. This time he has the chance to be a real live fictional character. He didn’t think this character out like he does with Work, but rather he just let it happen. By some cosmic accident he had been handed this role and he seemed to just roll with it. From the moment he woke up the next morning, he was no longer just Quinn. He seemed to go trough a routine that wasn’t exactly his and ended up at an appointment that belonged to Paul Auster, not Dan Quinn. Right before he entered the meeting “he gave himself one last word of advice. ‘If all this is really happening,’ he said ‘then I must keep my eyes open.’”(p. 13) It is as if he is warning himself against getting too engrossed in the character, while preparing himself for the inevitable at the same time. When Virginia Stillman opens the door, he is thrown off track. He is not exactly sure how to be Auster because he is just sort of winging it. Quinn does his best to be Paul Auster, but because he admittedly has done no research about the real Auster, what comes out to just be an odd detective version of himself, Daniel Quinn, just with a different name. at this point he is becoming less himself and more a combination of surrounding characters, but he has not yet assumed his biggest influence.

While Daniel stays close to being himself for the beginning of the novel he begins to lose himself in the end. He a few takes traits from Work and Auster but his biggest influences by are the Stillmans. He becomes increasingly more and more like the Peter Stillmans, both young and old. In a meeting with Stillman, the elder, he claims to be Peter Stillman and from that moment on he becomes lost in that character more then any other character he has in the past. Once he claims to be Stillman his whole world falls apart. The end of the novel leaves us with a Quinn that is strikingly similar to both Stillmans in action and belief. His brisk walking pace is replaced with the slow shuffling of the older stillman. He begins to make connections between things that are a stretch at best. In the end, he ends up on the floor of an abandoned room. He spends his time naked in the dark in a room in the Stillman’s building. He receives meals from an anonymous origin. All these things are direct references to the younger Stillman. Peter was locked in his room from such a young age that he was not able to speak, but according to Peter he had some language when he went into the room and he held onto it but he refused to speak because when he spoke the elder Stillman abused him. ”Peter kept the words inside him. All those days and months and years. There in the dark, little Peter all alone, and the words made noise in his head and kept him company.” (p. 20) Peter clearly had some ability to think somewhat coherent thoughts he just didn’t express them for fear of the “boom boom boom”. When he regained his speech it is broken and confusing. Through his time spent in the dark room all Quinn focused on as well were words. His writings consumed him. Even thought he was not locked in the room, like Peter, his only company was his thoughts. Toward the end his writings got scattered and turned to ramblings. Quinn, like Peter, no longer has the ability to tell time or even care about time. The similarities between the Quinn and the Stillmans only continue to grow as the novel continues.

Daniel Quinn drastically changes through out the novel. He was already a relatively broken character at the beginning of the novel, but he only grows more lost and confused. He begins to try out different characters that he is presented with. There is a common saying that states, “You are the sum of the 5 closest people to you.” Meaning you pick up traits and behaviours from your 5 closet friends. Quinn, lacking friends, begins picking up traits from these fictional and non-fictional characters around him. At the end he draws majority of his characteristics from the Stillmans to the point that he is no longer recognizable as Quinn, even to himself.

1 comment:

  1. There's a moment when this essay suddenly moves from obvious to interesting. You spend a lot of unnecessary time and effort at the beginning saying things which are obvious to anyone who has ready the book, certainly anyone from our class - for instance, summarizing Quinn's relationship with Work and his assumption of Auster's identity. Much of this was unnecessary, or at least not clearly directed.

    Where it gets interesting is with the sudden observation that the turning point in the novel is when he claims to be Peter Stillman.

    Maybe everything after that is a little obvious in some ways too - that is, you stepping through ways in which he becomes more and more like the younger Peter. I found it all worthwhile, though, because your focus was clear, and you were interested in the moment when all of this began to happen.

    What I wanted, though, wasn't just a statement of the fact (well discussed) that he becomes like Stillman, nor the important and far from obvious observation that this process begins when he claims to be Stillman. What I want is to know what it all means.

    For instance, you *might* claim that the fact that he says something, and then, slowly and fitful, it *happens*, means that his language is suddenly working like God's language, or the pre-fall language - and that thus he is more like Peter Stillman than Peter Stillman ever is.

    Maybe that's not where you're going. My point is that your understanding that he says he's Peter and then he becomes Peter (in a sense) is *important*, and should take you to some clear destination.