Thursday, November 17, 2011

Revision 2: Adam, Humpty Dumpty, and Quinn

“In the good mystery there is nothing wasted, no sentence, no word that is not significant. And even if it is not significant, it has the potential to be so,” according to Paul Auster. The City of Glass by Paul Auster is a story filled with layers and minor details. Simple symbols reflect dynamic and complex ideas, such as the egg and the fallen men. Auster is able to take the image of an egg in varying physical conditions, and blend it with the actions of multiple characters to portray what is a fallen man’s true identity.

Daniel Quinn, Stillman Senior, and Stillman Junior are all “fallen men”. From the beginning, it is said that Quinn had lost his wife and child; he wanders around the city wanting to get lost. It is as if he has no purpose and is unsure about what to do with his life; Quinn is in need of a change or sign to help him realize his own identity. One blow after another, Quinn continues to crack throughout the story, until he is a cracked egg. Along with Quinn, Stillman senior believes in a language that does not exist and had been locked up in jail. For years, Stillman Senior began to crack, which caused him to lose his identity, until he literally fell. Just as Humpty Dumpty fell off a wall, Stillman Senior jumped off a bridge. Stillman Junior is also fallen. His father locked him up and kept him away from the world. He was never allowed to discover his identity, rather only allowed to keep “falling”.

In the Christian religion, an egg is the “symbol of birth and rebirth, an apparently lifeless object out of which comes life” (Christian Symbols). Because of this and the resurrection of Christ, Easter is symbolically represented by an egg. St. Mary Magdalena traveled to Rome to speak about Christ’s resurrection to Emperor Tiberius; however, the emperor declared that “a man could no more rise from the dead than that egg she held could turn scarlet” (Christian Symbols). This is representative of the fallen men in City of Glass. The characters, Quinn, Stillman Senior, Stillman Junior, and Humpty Dumpty, all crack and begin to break until they are shattered.

Another representation of the egg is “Creation, the elements, and the world itself, with the shell representing the firmament, the vault of the sky where the fiery stars lie, the thin membrane symbolizing air; the white symbolizing the waters; and the yolk representing earth” (Christian Symbols). After a person cracks per say, he or she begins to build themselves back up. In reference to an egg, this is the raw egg transforming into an omelet. When the yolk and white of an egg is mixed together and cooked, it is a new, unified item; it is still an egg, however now it has transformed into something else. A reference is made to the moon and an egg explaining that people will not give up their desire to find their true identity. The egg resembling the moon mimics the identity people are on the search for. During different phases of the moon, it may be less full or somewhat cracked.

Stillman Senior makes references to the “paradisiacal” language using the symbolism of an egg. During the conversation about God’s language, Stillman remarks, “Most people don’t pay attention to such things. They think of words as stones, as great immovable objects with no life, as monads that never change” (74). Quinn answers Stillman Senior by saying, “Stones can change. They can be worn away by wind or water” (74). Similarly, an egg is able to “worn away” in a sense that it will crack and eventually shatter. After the shell of an egg is worn away, the egg can change. Later in the conversation, Stillman cracks a hard-boiled egg and says, “As you can see, sir, I leave no stone unturned” (100). Again, Stillman is stressing that each and every human being will be broken down, but eventually they will always be able to identify them once again and become something new.

Furthermore, Stillman Senior connects Humpty Dumpty, the egg with human features, with the fallen language and men. Adam from the book of Genesis explains why God’s language is also shattered. After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam was banished from the garden and sent to Earth. At this time, his task of naming all objects creating God’s language was stopped. An image of a broken egg is like the comparison of keeping physical attributes, while still losing one. The most important part of the egg is inside, while the shell is solely an exterior protector. An egg can still survive without the shell if it is cooked into an omelet. In essence, this is the “sole” of a person. Although while making an omelet, some of the egg may be lost; this is similar to Quinn. Quinn states, “…then I imagined my head cracking open, splattering like the egg that had fallen to the floor of my room… I saw myself in pieces” (43).

The question about man’s control over language or if language constricts man is portrayed through Humpty Dumpty. Stillman quotes Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass when speaking about Humpty Dumpty. Stillman quotes, when “I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said… it means just what I choose it to mean” (81). Humpty Dumpty is proving the language does not constrain him; rather he uses the literal words to tell exactly what it is. Stillman declares to Quinn, “It is our duty as human beings: to put the egg back together again. For each of us, sir, is Humpty Dumpty. And to help him is to help ourselves” (98). This is a clear example that man is able to change and control language. In comparison to Stillman, Quinn believes things can change and does not have the same mindset that the paradisiacal language has been broken. It is possible Stillman is too “broken” to realize things can change and control can be gained again. This is emphasized as Stillman says, “We exist, but we have not yet achieved the form that is our destiny. We are pure potential… For man is a fallen creature…” (98).

Humpty Dumpty is called a “philosopher of language” according to Stillman. A philosopher is a person who establishes the central ideas of some movement, cult, etc. ( Just like Humpty, Adam once began to create God’s language until he was banished. He started the ideas of language; however, after his fall he had to regain his stability. Adam was able to regain stability and has created the language that is spoken today. Stillman believes it is not the “true” language that should be spoken, but I believe this exemplifies the fallen men and their search for identity. Gaining stability is represented as finding one’s identity, which both Stillmans and Quinn are on the hunt for. Quinn hears out of the darkness, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” (116); this is the point he finally realizes the symbolic representation of the egg and the fallen man. It is not until after they are completely broken, like a cracked egg, that they get a new perspective on their lives.

During the conversation about Humpty Dumpty, Stillman speaks about handling cracks in an egg. “When faced with the problem of how to stand an egg on its end, he merely tapped slightly on the bottom, cracking the shell just enough to create a certain flatness that would support the egg when he removed his hand.” It is possible Stillman is ensuring Quinn that a man can and will be broken down, but will still be standing. Stillman also explains to Quinn, “You see, the world is in fragments sir. And it’s up to me to put it back together again… if I can lay the foundation, other hands can do the work of restoration itself”(75). Through this sentence, Stillman is emphasizing that the egg represents man and the cracks break down egg (man) until there is nothing but his true self. After man has realized there is not where farther to fall, he can then piece himself back together to become “whole” again in a new, changed way.

“He [Quinn] tried to think about eggs and wrote out such phrases as “a good egg,” “egg on his face,” “to lay an egg,” “to be as like as two eggs” (154). A good egg is a new person; egg on his face means to look foolish; to lay an egg translates to being unsuccessful; and to be as like two eggs is another way to say like two peas in a pod. All of these thoughts rush through Quinn’s mind as he, just like an egg, goes through these phases. Before being broke, Quinn and his wife may have been as like as two eggs, and after he began his fall he had egg on his face. With more cracks, Quinn finally lays an egg when he is totally lost and unsure about whom he really is. It is not until he finally realizes the egg-like journey he must continue in order to find his true self that he is a good egg. Thankfully, Quinn is able to realize Stillman’s comments of eggs, omelets, and Humpty Dumpty and their connection with fallen men, that he is finally able to find some sort of self.

Works Cited

Arasimowicz, Simone. "City of Glass." Simone's Digital Portfolio. Web. 11 Nov. 2011. .

Birkin, Paul. "Postmodernism and City of Glass." Bookstove. Bookstove, 4 July 2007. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. .

"Christian Symbols." Being Catholic. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. .

Pearson, Jakob. Rep. 2008. "My Name Is Paul Auster. That Is Not My Real Name": The Search for Identity in Paul Auster's The City of Glass. 2008. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. .


  1. Link to original:

  2. One big problem and one big strength dominate my response to this revision.

    The big strength is your relentless, yet varying and consistently interesting, focus on the image of the egg. You say at the beginning that's your focus and, while I didn't quite believe you that you'd stick with it, you sure did. It was all interesting and it was all credible. Your reading of the language of the egg in all of its variety and all of its meanings is good. Your deployment of "standard" Christian symbols is arguably a little basic, but is good nonetheless. Anyway, you have a theme, you stick to it, and you support your endless examination of that theme through detailed readings of the text.

    The big problem is the fact that you dont' move beyond the examination of a theme. What connects all of these aspects of the egg? If the image of the egg is so present, if if should be read, as you imply, through a more or less Christian lens, as a way of understanding the fallen condition of first men, then of language, then there should be a convincing way of pulling it all back together.

    How, for instance, should we consider the end of the novel in light of what you see almost (I presume) as the hegemonic power of the egg image? (I'd propose, just as an initial thought, that the ending of the novel can be seen as a return to the interior of the egg from the external world - maybe that's lame, but it's my first thought). Does the image of the egg demand a specifically Christian (or anti-Christian...) understanding of the novel.

    What, in other words, does the idea of the egg, as a whole, mean to the novel, also as a whole.

    You are strong with the parts here (the broken fragments of egg...); where you could have done more is putting together into one coherent egg/argument.