A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Themes

Themes and Colors
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

In A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers challenges the validity of his own autobiographical project. As early as the “Acknowledgements” section, which precedes the book’s first chapter, he refers to memoir writing as “inherently vile.” Despite his distaste for the genre, though, he still indulges his impulse to examine his life. He even points out that, although memoirs are perhaps “wrong and evil and bad […] we could all do worse, as…

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In A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Eggers ties the idea of youth to a sense of possibility. When he is only twenty-one years old, he becomes the primary caretaker of his eight-year-old brother, Toph, because their parents both die within five weeks of one another. This is overwhelming at first, but in the aftermath of losing his parents, Eggers finds himself adopting a sense of optimism about the future. Rather than succumbing…

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Because his parents die within five weeks of one another, Dave Eggers becomes well-acquainted with death, recognizing it as unavoidable and commonplace. However, this realistic outlook doesn’t help him come to terms with death in any sort of practical way. Although he projects an outward display of optimism that often carries him through difficult times, the experience of watching his parents die has profoundly altered the way he sees the world. More often than not…

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In A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Eggers pays close attention to the identities people assume and the roles that they or others attach to these identities. Eggers himself straddles multiple personas, simultaneously fulfilling the role of a responsible guardian and a wayward bachelor. Naturally, he often finds it difficult to concentrate on each identity, especially since they are so distinct. Of course, his priorities as Toph’s caretaker consume his daily life, but…

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Eggers tells many stories about other people in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but he also feels guilty about this aspect of his project. First and foremost, he worries about what his parents would think of his decision to publicly recount their final days. He frets that they would hate him for putting their stories into the world, stories that don’t fully belong to him even though he was present as they unfolded…

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