A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

The Wallet Symbol Icon

Eggers’s wallet used to belong to his father, and it clearly represents one of the few things of his father’s that he has been able to incorporate into his own life. As such, he’s desperate to retrieve it when he thinks he has lost it. “The wallet is gone,” he writes. “My father has slipped further down the well. The wallet was the constant reminder; every time I used it, it was always there, in my pocket!” However, this wallet takes on new symbolic complexity when Eggers becomes so obsessed with finding it that he permits himself to make racist assumptions about a group of unwitting teenagers. Threatening to call the police—which he refers to in his head as “My police”—he jumps to the conclusion that these kids have taken his wallet, and this conclusion is largely based on the fact that they aren’t white. When he finally goes home, though, he finds the wallet sitting on his dresser. As such, the wallet becomes a manifestation not only of how much Eggers misses his father, but also of the anger and desperation he has about his own misfortune. Unable to focus on anything except the fact that the wallet belonged to his father, Eggers makes brash and irrational accusations, ultimately emphasizing how powerfully emotions can alter a person’s behavior.

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The Wallet Symbol Timeline in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Wallet appears in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Identity Theme Icon
The teenagers walk away, but Eggers can’t find his wallet, so he chases them and accuses them of stealing. They insist they didn’t rob him,... (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
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, Eggers... (full context)
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...thinks has happened. He emphasizes that the teenagers were Mexican and that they took his wallet. Within four minutes, the police officer tells them that another officer has stopped a car... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...the couch. After he sends Stephen home, Eggers goes into his bedroom and finds his wallet sitting on the dresser. (full context)