The New York Triology: City of Glass Essay
City of Glass is a novel written by Paul Auster in 1985, and its one of the stories included in the series of novels The New York Trilogy (1987). One of the essential themes that recur in many of Austers works is the search for identity and personal meaning, and this is exactly one of the main elements of City of Glass. It deals with this detective writer, who descends into madness when he becomes a private investigator himself by mistake. In the following essay, I will focus on the characters and the very twisted point of view, which is a big part of the whole novel.Besides that, I will concentrate on the themes that are dealt with in the story. City of Glass is about the 35 years old writer, Daniel Quinn, whose wife and child he has lost. He lives a lonely life in New York, where he publishes a mystery novel every 5 or 6 months, which makes is possible for him to live a comfortable life in a small apartment.
Quinn seems like a mysterious person from the beginning of the story. He hides behind the pseudonym William Wilson, and writes about the detective Max Work, who he admires.Therefore it is no wonder that Quinn takes the job as a detective, and pretends to be someone he is not, when he gets a phone call that was meant for a Paul Auster. He gets involved in a case where he meets Peter Stillman Jr. and Virginia Stillman and is given the task to find and pursue Peter Stillman Sr. , who is a threat for the family.
Quinn, or Paul Auster who he pretends to be, finds himself investigating the case, but loses both Stillman Sr. and himself in the progress.After a meeting with the “real” Paul Auster, he re-obtains his determination, and the desperation of solving the case makes him place himself outside the house of the Stillmans, where he adapts a new way of living. His personality and appearance changes, just for him to find out that Stillman Jr. and Virginia has left, and that Stillman Sr. has committed suicide.
He ends up in a struggle between finding himself and his place in the world. In the novel we meet Peter Stillman Jr. who was the one that called Quinn, asking for Paul Auster.
The problem, which the whole story is based on, is hat Stillman Jr. is searching for a detective to keep an eye on his father, who has just got out of jail. His father, Peter Stillman Sr.
, is a religious theologian who was testing an old ritual where he isolated his son in a dark room without any kind of physical contact to get him to speak “the language of God” when he was a child. This has had some consequences on Stillman Jr’s. behaviour, as if he has some sort of mental disorder. Although his way of speaking is weird, he seems calm about the fact that his father might take revenge on him, because he was the one who got his father in jail.Stillman Jr. has a wife, Virginia Stillman, who is a beautiful and clever woman. They met each other at the clinic where he was being treated, and where she was working as a volunteer.
They developed a special relationship, and she married him because she wanted to do the best she could to help him and to give him a normal life. The first time Quinn meets Virginia, she acts very mischievous, and through the whole story, Quinn seems suspicious about her role in the whole case. We also meet Peter Stillman Sr. ho, as earlier mentioned, was locked in prison for several years because of his mistreat of his son. You get an impression of Stillman Sr. as a dangerous man when you hear about the things he have done from Virginia and Stillman Jr. , but when Quinn actually meets him, he seems very peaceful.
As a part of the investigation, Quinn manages to talk to him and tries to convince him that he is his son.Stillman Sr. believes him and responds very different than what was expected from him. They start having a long discussion about life and honesty, and Stillman Sr. xpresses that he is happy and proud of his “son”.
At the end of the novel, we hear about Stillman Sr. committing suicide. Although you don’t hear that much of him in the novel besides that, he is one of the most important characters in relation to his impact on Quinn and his transformation. One of the other persons you don’t hear a lot about, but who still plays a big role in the whole story, is the actual Paul Auster. He is the one that Stillman Jr.
meant to call, but because of a problem with the phone lines he got Quinn instead, who just went with it.Paul Auster is also a writer, and when Quinn informs him about the case and the situation, he starts helping out by drawing possible conclusions and giving advice. He gets worried when Quinn disappears, but at the same time he does not really make an effort to find him. The last, important character in the novel, the narrator, who appears in the end, where he/she has just returned from a trip to Africa, also points this out.
He/she accuses Auster to be indifferent to Quinn after hearing the whole story, and it is him/her who comes up with the idea of Quinn being at the Stillmans house.Although he/she is the one person in the novel who has the most trivial relationship to Quinn, he/she is the one who cares the most. The centre and the main character in the story is Daniel Quinn, but he is referred to in 3rd person, which means that he is not the narrator. The narrator does not appear before the end of the novel, where he/she goes from implicit to explicit. This “I” suddenly comes out of a context in which it has always existed, but never spoken directly. The narrator is evidently a friend of Paul Auster, who tells about the incident with Quinn.Together they go to Stillmans apartment to search for him, but the only thing they find is a red notebook, which Auster identifies as Quinns.
And it is this notebook, which the narrator has based the story on. You can see that on page 158: ”I have followed the red notebook as closely as I could, and any inaccuracies in the story should be blamed on me. (.
.. ) I have done my best with it and have restrained from any interpretation. ” The narrator claims that the story is true, and that he objectively has passed it on from Quinns notebook.
Before the narrator appears, the point of view was tied to Quinn. There was narrated about him, but still from his perspective. By suddenly presenting an explicit narrator, the author makes it clear that nothing is as it seems like. One of the things I noticed when I read the novel, was the large amount of duality and parallels. Daniel Quinn has several different personalities during the story, where he also appears as Paul Auster and William Wilson, and in some way as Max Work and Don Quixote too. Furthermore, there is an incident where Quinn meets Paul Austers son, whose name is Daniel too.Speaking of Paul Auster, he is an author and a detective in the novel, while he is the actual author of the novel, City of Glass.
Perhaps it is also worth mentioning that the “real” Paul Austers son is named Daniel Auster in real life too. In addiction to that, there are two persons named Peter Stillman in the novel, Jr. and Sr. , who are father and son.
City of Glass deals with a lot of different themes, and the most obvious ones are of course mystery and crime, since that is what the actual story is about.But if you read between the lines, I would say that one of the main themes is development. I build this on the fact that Quinn, who is the main character in the novel, is going through a major development throughout the story. It all starts when he begins to follow Stillman Sr. , where his own personality is lost in the perception of being the detective Paul Auster. He becomes so obsessed with the case, that he loses his composure and all sense of reality, and ends up like a bum with no one and nowhere.To this you can connect themes as identity and the difference between reality and fantasy, which are also essential in the novel. A big part of the story is about finding yourself between different identities and personalities.
This is exactly what Quinn is trying to do, but he looses his foothold in the progress, and has difficulty distinguishing between several worlds and realities at last. And perhaps this is one of the messages of the novel; that fiction is just fiction, and that it can be risky to think otherwise. Just look at how it went Quinn when he started stepping in to his own constructions.