Defragmentation of the self in paul auster's city of glass

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Rodrigo Aguiló

Erika de la Barra

Literature I

21 June 2010

City of Glass, by Paul Auster

In City of Glass, by Paul Auster, the author uses the strategy of playing with names, including his own name as a fictional character in the story. The aim of doing that is to deal with the man’s desire of existential purpose. The main character, Daniel Quinn, has several identities inthe book; Daniel Quinn, Max Work, William Wilson, and Paul Auster. Daniel Quinn seeks to escape from his unpleasent and empty life through the interesting and full of meaning lives of the fictional detective (MaxWork) and the detective (Paul Auster). On the one hand he knows they’re fictional, on the other hand he does as much as posible to make them real. By doing this, he succes in living throughothers without dropping his own exsistence. As the story develops, his real life starts to disappear little by little within Paul Auster. Daniel Quinn has suffered the loss of wife and son, and from that point on he lost also the interest in life, therefore these new identities help him to fight that internal lack of interest and to avoid reflexioning in his own life to live an interesting andout of pain life represented by Paul Auster. Then, the existential issue grows bigger and bigger, and he develops parallel lives where he decides when to be one or the other depending on what makes him feel better or more precisely what makes him feel nothing

Daniel Quinn was a prominent writer and a happy man until his wife and son died, then he himself states that a part of his own diedwith them. His life also lost any spark of meaning and his attitude towards it was no more than to witness his own existence:

In the past, Quinn had been more ambitious. As a young man he had published several books... But quite abruptly, he had given up all that. A part of him had died, he told his friends... It was then that he had taken on the name of William Wilson. Quinn was no longerthat part of him that could write books, and although in many ways Quinn continued to exist, he no longer existed for anyone but himself. (4)

This passage describes the first time that Daniel makes up a new identity to face reality, as he didn’t want to deal with the death of his wife and son, he made up Willian as to be a new person with no relation to that pain. Later on in the storyMax Work is introduced as the main character in the detective novels written by Wilson, despite the fact that Work is just a character on his books, he represents the life that Daniel stopped living after his loss:

In the triad of selves that Quinn had become, Wilson served as a kind of ventriloquist. Qunn himself was the dummy, and Work was the animated voice that gave purpose to theenterprise... And little by little, work had become a presence in Quinn’s life, his interior brother, his comrade in solitude.(6)

Once Daniel decides to lie to Virginia and Peter Stillman, and play the role of the private detective Paul Auster, he actually begins to feel that he is that person and starts living through him. He stops writing, he stops his walks in the city, he throws away everyremain of Daniel Quinn, William Wilson, and Max Work to become Paul Auster. At first that works perfectly as he had a new purpose in life, to protect Peter junior, but once again his internal stuggle haunts him and destroys his ”new life” when he meets the actual Paul Auster. This man represented everything Daniel Quinn once had had and lost. He had a beautiful wife, and healthy son and he was awriter on his own, a writer who used his own name to publish, a man who didn’t need to hide from life as he accepted it as it came and was happy with it:

He felt as though Auster were taunting him with the things he had lost, and he responded with envy and rage, a lacerating self-pity. Yes, he too would have liked to have this wife and this child, to sit around all day spounting about old...
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