Identity in paul auster's moon palace

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Lecture 2


Identity is obviously a dominant theme in the novel. It is an explicit one, the main one; it sets an emphasis on the relations of affiliation and paternity. This theme comes out clearly, if you sum up the plot: at the beginning, the hero is both an illegitimate child and an orphan. “With my father, however, all was a blank, both during and after.” (Page 4)“However” introduces the notion of blank. As a young man, he seems unable to find his own identity. This is symbolized mainly by passages where he wears someone else’s clothes: “That was how I came to inherit my predecessor’s overcoat. I found it eerie to walk around in it, knowing that it had belonged to a man who was now dead, but I continued to wear it on all our outings for the rest of the winter.To assuage my compunctions, I tried to think of it as a kind of uniform that went with the job, but that did not do much good. Whenever I put it on, I couldn’t help feeling that I was stepping into a dead man’s body, that I had been turned into Pavel Shum’s ghost.” (Page 116) Fogg is symbolically threatened by appearance. At the end of the novel, he seems to have discovered his identity; he hasdiscovered who his father is, therefore he seems to know who he is. This is obvious in the last pages of the novel. Knowing who he is not reveals who he is. “I had left myself behind, that I was no longer the person I had once been.” (Page 297)
Moon Palace falls into the bildungsroman category. The moment of self-knowledge comes after months of torment. The theme of identity is also implicit in theway it is indirectly linked to the theme of wandering, walking, and traveling. There is a parallel progression if we take the theme of travel. At the beginning, Fogg wanders with no sense of direction. This aimless walking and wandering is a dominant motif. “I had no clear idea of what I was going to do. When I left my apartment on the first morning, I simply started walking, going wherever mysteps decided to take me.”(Page 49) “If I eventually chose Central Park, it was only because I was too exhausted to think of anything else.”(Page 53) These days of wandering in NY are a factual element of the plot, closely linked to his loss of money. Beyond this aspect, walking takes on a metaphorical value: wherever you go, what you find is yourself. “Cut off from everything that was familiar tohim, unable to discover even a single point of reference, he saw that his steps, by taking him nowhere, were taking him nowhere but into himself. He was wandering inside himself, and he was lost.” (Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude, p. 86-7)
At the end, Fogg decides to orient his steps, he chooses a direction, and his wandering becomes a conscious quest. His journey to the Pacific is clearlymetaphorical. The decision to go west has material reason (to find the cave where Effing lived). “If I had thought there was the slightest possibility of finding the cave, I doubt that I would have gone, but the idea of a useless quest, of setting out on a journey that was doomed to failure, appealed to my sense of things at that moment. We would search, but we would not find.” “This was ametaphor I could live with” (Page 279) the journey becomes synonymous with the metaphor; therefore the journey is an initiatory one. The link between Fogg and Effing is obvious if we think about the latter: in the desert, he decides to change his identity; once he arrives on the West Coast, he takes on his new identity. It is in Chicago, in a cemetery, a no place, that Fogg discovers whom his father is.However, he has to go all the way West to understand who he is. Both implicitly and explicitly, Moon Palace focuses on this central theme of identity. Identity is closely linked to the problematic of the name: having a name, being recognized as an individual, being similar to something else. You have an identity when you are one (unique, integer, a whole). The whole novel deals with the threat...
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