American Gods

American Gods

American Gods Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chapter opens with Ben Franklin’s adage: “Three may keep a secret, if two are dead.” Back in Lakeside, Shadow spends his days trying to stay warm and out of trouble. He visits Hinzelmann, looking at his collection of fishing lures and listening to Hinzelmann’s tall tales about the old days. Shadow buys a ticket for the klunker raffle, guessing that the car that was pushed out onto the ice will break through the melt on March 23rd, between 9 and 9:25 am. Shadow asks Hinzelmann if he has ever heard of eagle stones or thunderbirds, but Hinzelmann tells Shadow to go look in the library.
The Ben Franklin quote may be a warning about telling one’s own secrets to too many people, but it also acts as a reminder of the violence often used in the name of keeping secrets. Shadow predicts when spring will arrive, seemingly choosing a morning in March at random, even though spring usually comes later in April in this region of Wisconsin.
Themes
Change and Growth Theme Icon
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Shadow goes to the library and gets a library card form from a stern woman, thinking of a man he knew in jail who stole half a million dollars-worth of books and hid them in a garage. Shadow goes to the single shelf of “Native American Beliefs and Traditions” books and soon has information about thunderbirds, which live on mountaintops and cause storms. He finds no mention of eagle stones.
The high value attributed to books recalls Wednesday’s comment on the plane when he first met Shadow—that information is power. The more Shadow knows, the more powerful he will be. Yet Americans seem to have forgotten all the wisdom of the Native American tribes, relegating all the history, beliefs, and knowledge of hundreds of tribes to just one shelf. As America continues to grow and add new voices, it unfortunately forgets old ones.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Change and Growth Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon
Plurality and the Power of the Individual in America Theme Icon
The Sacredness of American Land Theme Icon
Shadow notices a young boy watching him, so he takes out his Liberty coin and does a few coin tricks for the boy. The boy brings his mom over, who turns out to be Marguerite Olsen. Marguerite does not look any happier to see Shadow this time, and icily tells Shadow not to do magic in front of her son. Shadow wanders down to the library book sale and decides to buy a book on parlour illusions and a book of the minutes of the Lakeside City Council 1872-1884 (because he doubts anyone else will ever buy that book).
Marguerite is again wary of Shadow, though Shadow truly did just want to entertain the young boy. Shadow aligns himself with the nostalgic Old Gods by buying a book of old coin tricks and the Lakeside history book.
Themes
Change and Growth Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon
On his way home, Shadow looks at the dark green car on the ice, hoping that he will win the raffle when it falls. Back at Shadow’s apartment, Chad is waiting to check in with him. Shadow asks if Marguerite is always so stern, and Chad explains that “Margie” suffered through a bad marriage to a weak man and had a vicious custody battle when she sued for divorce. Marguerite’s older son, Sandy, took the divorce hard and ran away last year, presumably to find his dad. Shadow notices that Chad seems to be in love with Marguerite himself.
Shadow’s hope that he will win the raffle is one of the first thoughts of the future he’s had, another sign that Shadow is building a personality and life of his own in Lakeside. Chad’s nickname for Marguerite suggests that she was once softer and more approachable, but that the tragedy in her life has changed her. Sandy’s disappearance echoes Sam Black Crow’s description of a child that was lost, as it is another horrible thing that happened in a town that is supposed to be so good.
Themes
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon
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Shadow tries to learn coin tricks from the Parlour Illusions book, but can’t make sense of the directions. Bored, he flips through the Lakeside City Council Minutes, noting the family names of many current residents, including Mulligan and Hinzelmann, and then falls asleep.
While Shadow assumes that the surnames in the Lakeside history book are ancestors of the Mulligan (Chad) and Hinzelmann that he knows, the lack of first names adds some doubt to this situation.
Themes
Change and Growth Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon
Shadow dreams that he is above the cave where the earth pushed him out. Star people land next to him, with faces that remind Shadow of Marguerite, and Shadow asks them where to find a thunderbird. One of the star women points up to the sky. Shadow climbs a nearby rock spire to get closer to the sky, realizing as he climbs the sharp material that the spire is made of skulls, not all of them human. Birds begin to circle the spire, flying gracefully with lightning crackling in their wings. Shadow reaches out and tries to grab a feather, thinking oddly that he will never be a man in his tribe if he can’t get a feather. He hears the Buffalo Man tell him who the skulls all belong to, and Shadow falls from the spire.
Marguerite’s presence in Shadow’s dream suggests that she also belongs with the land and possibly has Native American heritage. Thunderbirds have incredible significance in the Lakota mythology, capable of both created fierce storms, as in Shadow’s dream, and bringing the spring. Following from Shadow’s previous dream, where he was reborn, this dream now signifies his journey to manhood, as if Shadow were a member of a Native American tribe and had to undergo a coming-of-age ritual with the thunderbird feathers. But Shadow falls without getting a feather, showing that he’s not yet ready.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Change and Growth Theme Icon
The Sacredness of American Land Theme Icon
The telephone wakes Shadow, and Wednesday angrily asks Shadow why he is drawing attention to himself by dreaming of thunderbirds. Wednesday calms down and then tells Shadow to be ready to leave the next morning for San Francisco. Wednesday hangs up and Shadow can hear Marguerite sobbing through the thin walls in the early morning stillness.
Wednesday again has the ability to see into Shadow’s dreams, suggesting that they are really happening somewhere that gods like Wednesday can notice. Marguerite’s continued pain, presumably from Sandy’s disappearance, is another sign that all in Lakeside is not as it should be.
Themes
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Deception Theme Icon
San Francisco is much warmer than Lakeside, but Wednesday is still giving Shadow an angry cold shoulder as they walk down Haight Street. Shadow comments that San Francisco hardly seems to be in the same country as Lakeside, and Wednesday snaps that all of America may be on the same land, but it’s not all the same country. Wednesday then warns Shadow to be very careful with the next woman they are visiting.
The huge size of America makes it hard to define with the qualities of any one region. In Lakeside, the winter is cold and brutal, but San Francisco is as warm as it would be in spring in Lakeside. Each region has its own character, but the land itself is what they have in common.
Themes
Plurality and the Power of the Individual in America Theme Icon
The Sacredness of American Land Theme Icon
Wednesday and Shadow meet a woman sitting under a tree in a park with a picnic spread around her. The woman is curvaceous and beautiful, but complains about getting fat in New Orleans. Shadow blushes and the woman is delighted. Wednesday introduces the woman as Easter, and Shadow can hardly speak for being intoxicated by her smile and her scent. Easter flatly refuses to join Wednesday’s cause, but invites Shadow to stay and eat and lets Wednesday fill a plate.
Easter’s curvy figure follows from her identity as a fertility goddess, who also has dominion over rebirth and new life. Her time in New Orleans refers to the huge Easter parades now thrown in this city, celebrating the Christian holiday and the arrival of spring. As with Czernobog and Mr. Nancy, Easter warms to Shadow even when she does not like Wednesday. Shadow acts as Wednesday’s buffer amongst the Old Gods, as well as his bodyguard and driver.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Easter asks Shadow where his name comes from, and Shadow explains that he traveled with his mother to US embassies and didn’t know how to interact with other kids when his mom got sick and was transferred back to the states. Shadow took to following adults like a shadow, and the name stuck. Easter warns Shadow to stay out of secret societies, then takes Shadow and Wednesday to a nearby coffee shop.
Shadow’s name has been a source of many questions throughout the novel, and he now admits that it is only a nickname. The nickname refers to the way that Shadow does not make decisions for himself, instead simply following others around. Shadow’s real name remains secret, as Shadow still has not accepted his true identity or begun to make important choices for himself.
Themes
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Deception Theme Icon
Easter revels in how well she is doing as the mortals worship her festival with grand feasts and egg hunts that get bigger every year. Wednesday sniffs that today’s mortals don’t know anything about Easter’s true nature. He proves his point by asking a woman in the coffee shop what Easter means—the woman says she is a pagan who doesn’t believe in any of that Christian stuff. Wednesday asks the woman what gods she does believe in, and the woman replies that she believes in the female principle, the goddess inside all women. Wednesday offers to repeat the exercise with thousands of people on the street, betting that none of them will know that Easter comes from Eostre of the Dawn. Easter looks like she’s about to cry, so Wednesday apologizes sincerely and asks Easter once more to join their fight against the New Gods. Now Easter agrees.
Easter seems to be gaining more power as her holiday becomes less about Christianity and more of a “secular” cultural celebration. Many people who are not Christian still celebrate Easter as the beginning of spring, thereby giving their worship to the goddess Easter. Yet Wednesday is correct that almost no one in America knows Easter’s true identity as the Germanic goddess Eostre of the Dawn. In order to enjoy her current power, Easter must reject some old aspects of herself and mold herself into the image that Americans now want. The waitress seems to reflect the belief that humans do not need gods, as their own selves are sufficiently sacred to worship.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Change and Growth Theme Icon
Plurality and the Power of the Individual in America Theme Icon
Wednesday pays for the coffee, trying to stiff the waitress until Shadow slyly covers the difference. As they leave, Easter asks Shadow about his thunderbird dream. Shadow shudders and confesses that the spire in his dream was made of thousands of skulls—skulls that the Buffalo Man said belonged to Shadow himself in previous lives. Easter calls Shadow a “keeper” and then walks away. Meanwhile, Wednesday is irate that Shadow blocked his small con on the waitress, pointing out all the sins the waitress herself has committed against other people. Wednesday delights in taking these small victories against the mortals who made him and forgot him, but Shadow says that it’s more important to do the right thing.
Where Wednesday uses his skill at sleight of hand to take advantage of humans, Shadow uses his talents to help others. Easter’s knowledge of Shadow’s dream makes it even more likely that Shadow’s dream happened on some mythical plane that all the gods have access to. From the number of skulls that apparently once belonged to Shadow, it seems that Shadow has been reincarnated many times, linking him to these American reincarnations of gods. But Shadow still looks on the world with optimism and interest, while Wednesday chooses to become bitter and vengeful in the face of his waning power.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Change and Growth Theme Icon
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon
The Sacredness of American Land Theme Icon
Back in Lakeside, it’s still cold but no longer quite as freezing. Chad Mulligan comes to Shadow’s apartment the day after he returns from San Francisco. Chad brings a picture of Alison, the young girl from the bus, and the news that Alison is missing. Shadow proves that he was away on business and had nothing to do with the disappearance yesterday, and he joins the search party looking for any sign of Alison.
Alison, the animal-obsessed girl on the bus, is another tragedy in a town where no bad things are supposed to happen. Hinzelmann’s explanation that kids sometimes just run away doesn’t seem to fit with Alison’s character. It would be easy for Lakeside to scapegoat Shadow, as he is an unknown newcomer, but Chad trusts Shadow enough to let him join the search party.
Themes
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Deception Theme Icon
Hinzelmann, Shadow, and a man named Brogan are assigned to search County road W for any sign of Alison. Brogan shudders and says that he hopes Alison gets found, but he doesn’t want to be the one to find her. They look all day, but find nothing. Back at the local bar for a drink after a disappointing day, Brogan asks Shadow not to think badly of Lakeside because of this tragedy, saying that it is a good town. Another woman chimes in that Lakeside is far better than most of the towns in the area where farmers are committing suicide and all the big factories are shutting down. Shadow does a coin trick with eight quarters to cheer the bar patrons, realizing with pride that this is his first adult audience.
Brogan’s distaste for finding Alison shows that he expects to find her dead rather than alive. That the search party finds nothing, not even signs of a struggle anywhere, makes this disappearance even more mysterious. The town people rally around Lakeside despite this tragedy, as if by sheer belief in Lakeside’s goodness they can force tragedies like this to stop happening. Shadow again uses his skill for coin tricks to delight people at a time when they need distraction from their problems.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon
Plurality and the Power of the Individual in America Theme Icon
On his way home from the bar, Shadow stops to get milk and notices that the checkout girl is Alison’s friend Sophie, who was with her on the bus. Shadow tells Sophie that they looked for Alison all day with no luck, and Sophie bitterly says that she is getting out of this town where kids like Sandy Olsen, Alison, and others disappear every year.
Sophie connects Alison’s disappearance to a string of other missing children, all supposedly with good explanation. Her grim resignation makes it clear that this has been happening for a while, though no one seems to be doing anything about it.
Themes
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon