A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Eggers’s Father (John Eggers) Character Analysis

Eggers, Beth, Toph, and Bill’s father. Eggers only provides fragmentary and rather random bits of information about his father, which perhaps indicates how close he was to the man. Still, he makes it clear that Bill Eggers, a “commodities-oriented lawyer” practicing in Chicago, is a private man with unique, almost eccentric ideas. For instance, he decides to put a fish tank in a small recess in the living room wall, and though he doesn’t measure the dimensions of the space before acting on this decision, the tank fits perfectly and then goes untouched for quite some time. The fish inevitably die, but Eggers’s father keeps the tank in the living room, glowing strangely from its perch. At some point after Eggers’s mother is diagnosed with stomach cancer, John sits his children down and bluntly encourages them to expect her death. What they don’t expect, though, is that he will die five weeks before her. Indeed, Eggers’s father is diagnosed with lung cancer after his wife learns of her stomach cancer, but his illness is much more aggressive, killing him before anyone has fully realized that he’s going to die. In his memoir, Eggers reveals (though not at first) that his father was an alcoholic and that he was often physically abusive to him and his siblings. By withholding this information at the beginning of the book, he enables readers to mourn his father’s loss before complicating this feeling with unflattering notions about the way John Eggers treated his family.

Eggers’s Father (John Eggers) Quotes in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

The A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius quotes below are all either spoken by Eggers’s Father (John Eggers) or refer to Eggers’s Father (John Eggers). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius published in 2001.
Acknowledgements Quotes

[…] an incomparable loss begets both constant struggle and heart-hardening, but also some unimpeachable rewards, starting with absolute freedom, interpretable and of use in a number of ways. And though it seems inconceivable to lose both parents in the space of 32 days […] and to lose them to completely different diseases (cancer, sure, but different enough, in terms of location, duration, and provenance), that loss is accompanied by an undeniable but then of course guilt-inducing sense of mobility, of infinite possibility, having suddenly found oneself in a world with neither floor nor ceiling.

Page Number: xviii
Explanation and Analysis:
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This part concerns the unshakable feeling one gets, one thinks, after the unthinkable and unexplainable happens—the feeling that, if this person can die, and that person can die, and this can happen and that can happen…well, then, what exactly is preventing everything from happening to this person, he around whom everything else happened? If people are dying, why won’t he? If people are shooting people from cars, if people are tossing rocks down from overpasses, surely he will be the next victim. If people are contracting AIDS, odds are he will, too.

Page Number: xxiii
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 4 Quotes

You know, to be honest, though, what I see is less a problem with form, all that garbage, and more a problem of conscience. You’re completely paralyzed with guilt about relating all this in the first place, especially the stuff earlier on. You feel somehow obligated to do it, but you also know that Mom and Dad would hate it, would crucify you […]. But then again, I should say, and Bill and Beth would say—well, probably not Bill, but definitely Beth—that your guilt, and their disapproval, is a very middlebrow, middle-class, midwestern sort of disapproval. It’s superstition as much as anything—like the primitives who fear the camera will take their soul. You struggle with a guilt both Catholic and unique to the home in which you were raised. Everything there was a secret—for instance, your father being in AA was not to be spoken of, ever, while he was in and after he stopped attending. You never told even your closest friends about anything that happened inside that house. And now you alternately rebel against and embrace that kind of suppression.

Page Number: 115
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Chapter 10 Quotes

I had loved how vague it was before. Where are they? Well, that’s a good question. Where were they buried? Another interesting question. That was the beauty of my father’s way. We knew that he had been diagnosed, but not how sick he was. We knew that he was in the hospital, but then not how close he was. It had always felt strangely appropriate, and his departure was made complete, as was hers, by the fact that the ashes never found us in California, that we had moved, and moved again, and again, dodging, weaving.

Page Number: 374
Explanation and Analysis:
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Eggers’s Father (John Eggers) Character Timeline in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

The timeline below shows where the character Eggers’s Father (John Eggers) appears in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...coming through the open doorframe. As she got closer, she saw the shape of her father outside. He was, for some reason, kneeling at the end of the driveway. (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...for instance, there is a recessed part of the chimney. One day, Eggers writes, his father decided to fill this space with a fish tank. Not caring to measure the area,... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...into the basement. Eggers then shifts gears again, narrating the moment that Beth saw their father kneeling outside. As she watched him, she noticed how slight he looked in his work... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Six months before this episode with the bloody nose, Eggers’s father called him and Beth into the living room. He sat there smoking as they came... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Eggers once again describes Beth’s experience of watching their father as he knelt in the driveway. Recently, he had been falling in the kitchen and... (full context)
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Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
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Eggers describes his father’s funeral service, which took place in the third week of November. He remembers feeling “embarrassed,”... (full context)
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Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
At the house after the funeral, Eggers and Beth talked to their father’s friend, a lawyer who carpooled with him every day. “He was the best driver I’ve... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
After the guests left Eggers’s house in the aftermath of his father’s funeral, he and Kirsten snuck off to his parents’ bathroom to have sex. The house... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
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Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...out into the world in the most public way possible. “For instance,” he says, “your father being in AA was not to be spoken of, ever, while he was in and... (full context)
Chapter 5
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
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Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
Finally, Eggers decides to “throw out [his] last ace,” saying, “This was my goddamn dad’s wallet you stole. And my dad just died. It’s all I have of his.” This,... (full context)
Chapter 6
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
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...rich. He talks about his parents, explaining that his mother was a teacher and his father a lawyer, and when Laura asks if their family had much money when he was... (full context)
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...the trees bordering his house because they cast too much shade onto his property. Eggers’s father, for his part, thought it was hilarious how angry all these white people got about... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...never actually talked to until he saw her at a crowded bar shortly after his father died (but before his mother died). He and Sarah hit it off, and she took... (full context)
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...tells Laura that he rarely dreams of his parents. He has, however, dreamt about his father. In the dream, it occurred to him that perhaps his father is actually still alive,... (full context)
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Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
Eggers recalls his father chasing him through the house, drunkenly trying to hit him. Once, when he hid in... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Eggers calls his father’s friend and speaks to his wife, who tells him that her husband is in the... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
This conversation throws Eggers into the memory of his father’s hospitalization. Apparently, it was quite unexpected, since he’d just recently been diagnosed. Nonetheless, the doctors... (full context)
Chapter 11
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
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...as some kind of cautionary tale,” John says, “a stand-in for someone else, for your dad, for these people who disappoint you—” Eggers interrupts to say that he is like his... (full context)