American Gods

American Gods

American Gods Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At the start of the chapter, Gaiman includes a quote from “Madame Life’s a Piece in Bloom” that describes death as “the ruffian on the stair” of Madam Life’s house. Only Zorya U is awake to say goodbye to Shadow and Wednesday when they leave. Shadow keeps his silver coin in his hand, flipping it over his palm. Wednesday nods at Shadow’s skill, but Shadow says that he lacks talent for misdirection—which holds people’s attention in the wrong place so that the trick looks truly magical.
The quote at the start of the chapter acts as a reminder that death is always waiting at the end of life, no matter what people do to avoid it. Wednesday’s assessment of Shadow’s coin trick also mirrors their attitude when it comes to cons. Shadow may be able to do the physical mechanics of a con, but he lacks the flair for it that Wednesday has.
Themes
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon
Looking at the silver coin more closely, Wednesday laughs that Lady Liberty, a foreigner, is the symbol of all that America holds dear, and says theatrically that “Liberty is a bitch who must be bedded on a mattress of corpses.” Shadow murmurs that he thinks Lady Liberty is beautiful, and Wednesday calls this the eternal folly of man.
Wednesday has a very cynical view of liberty, quoting Saint-Just, one of the most violent leaders of the French Revolution, when he considers liberty’s place in America. Shadow takes a purer view of liberty, simply calling it beautiful. Shadow may be naïve, but this viewpoint actually allows him to find an easier freedom than is possible in Wednesday’s violent and cynical worldview.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Plurality and the Power of the Individual in America Theme Icon
Wednesday takes Shadow to the bank that he says they will be robbing later, and asks for deposit forms from the teller. Wednesday then goes outside, inspects the night deposit slot, and writes down the phone number of the pay phone across the street. Wednesday then asks Shadow to think of snow. Shadow concentrates on the details of a snow storm while Wednesday goes to Kinko’s and photocopies the deposit slips, makes business cards, then prints several large signs. Finally, as Shadow begins to get a headache, he is surprised to look outside the Kinko’s window and see a snow storm approaching in the distance.
Shadow’s belief in a snow storm is enough to make the storm appear, showing how powerful the force of belief (and, perhaps, Shadow himself) is within the world of the novel. Wednesday busies himself with setting up the materials for their con, with a practiced hand that shows he has a wealth of experience with these types of operations.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon
Shadow and Wednesday leave the Kinko’s and Wednesday tells Shadow that his new identity is A. Haddock, Director of Security at Al Security Services, while Wednesday himself is Jimmy Gorman, Security Guard. Shadow warns Wednesday that he won’t do anything illegal, and Wednesday assures Shadow that they won’t be. After lunch, Wednesday dresses himself up as an old beat cop while it starts to snow. Shadow goes to the supermarket across the street with directions to shop for a while, then wait by the pay phone and say he is waiting for a call from his girlfriend, who’s having car trouble.
Wednesday sets up a two-man con that would not be possible without a partner, clearly relishing the chance to get more elaborate with his scheme. Shadow, again ambiguously placed with regards to the law, does not want to go to jail again but does not seem to have any moral qualms against robbing the bank itself. The scheme also makes use of the trusting nature of small towns in the Midwest, where no one will think twice about Shadow waiting by a pay phone as long as he has a ready excuse.
Themes
Deception Theme Icon
Plurality and the Power of the Individual in America Theme Icon
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Wednesday goes to the First Illinois bank ATM and tapes an “out of order” sign to the front. As people come up to use the ATM, Wednesday explains that it is out of order but he can still take their deposits. Wednesday does this all afternoon, charming all the people who happily give him their deposits so that they can be on their way and out of the cold snow. The cops pull up outside the bank after a few hours and Shadow sees Wednesday give them a business card. After a few minutes, the pay phone rings. Shadow answers it as “Andy Haddock” and helpfully explains to the police that the bank employs his business when they need security guards. The police warn Shadow that he really should send two men when large amounts of cash are involved, then tell him to have a nice day.
Wednesday’s con depends on people coming to the bank to make their deposits in cash, rather than using online banking service with checks or debit cards. It shows that he is still stuck somewhat in the past, though he has tried to adapt to the future by using the banking scheme at all. While Shadow may say that he has no talent for misdirection, he warms to the role of Andy Haddock quite well, seemingly more comfortable in this fake personality than he is in his own skin. The details that “Andy” adds manage to distract the policemen enough to let them get away.
Themes
Change and Growth Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon
Wednesday continues his performance as Jimmy Gorman until night falls, then tells Shadow to take him to the other First Illinois Bank in town. Wednesday deposits all the checks, credit card slips, and some of the cash there, keeping a random amount from some envelopes. Wednesday then tells Shadow to drive toward Madison, chuckling at their earnings for the day. On the drive, Wednesday muses sadly that America is the only country that “worries about what it is.” He then perks up and tells Shadow that they are heading to the “House on the Rock.”
Wednesday again uses misdirection, depositing things at the other branch of the bank to split people’s attention when they try to figure out what happened later on. Wednesday’s musings on America reflect Gaiman’s general project in the book—portraying America’s constant attempt to define itself.
Themes
Deception Theme Icon
Plurality and the Power of the Individual in America Theme Icon
The Sacredness of American Land Theme Icon
Shadow and Wednesday drive for hours, then reach the House on the Rock. Wednesday explains that it is a roadside attraction, the traditional thing that Americans build when they sense a place of power. While other countries might build churches, temples, or stone circles, Americans feel most transcendent wandering around tourist traps. Wednesday and Shadow buy tickets and walk into the strange house, which is full of retro items and odd animatronics. Wednesday explains that the house was built by Alex Jordan, for reasons that Alex himself didn’t understand, but millions of people come every year. Wednesday takes Shadow to a “gypsy” themed fortune-teller machine. Shadow’s fortune says: “Every ending is a new beginning. Your lucky number is none. Your lucky color is dead. Motto: Like father, like son.”
The House on the Rock is a real roadside attraction located in Wisconsin. Wednesday explains it as a response to the divine call within American land itself, but twisted by the strangeness of American culture into something unrecognizable as a traditional place of worship. This fortune-teller machine actually holds accurate predictions about Shadow’s future, picking up on the similarities between Wednesday and Shadow when it says, “like Father, Like son,” and the chance that Shadow will have to be resurrected from some sort of “ending.”
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
The Sacredness of American Land Theme Icon
Shadow and Wednesday wander through the large house, then find Czernobog in the Mikado room, which is decorated in a vaguely Asian manner with an off-key version of “Danse Macabre” playing in the background. Czernobog forces Shadow to watch an animatronic show of a drunkard waking up in a church yard to see spirits everywhere, then being shamed by the priest. Czernobog says that this scene is the real world. The three men then wander through what seem like hundreds of rooms full of old Americana and random ephemera. Finally, they reach a small pizzeria where an elderly black man in a bright suit and yellow gloves is waiting. Wednesday introduces him as Mr. Nancy.
When Czernobog refers to the animatronic as the real world, he is referencing the way that humans really can see spirits, but be shamed out of believing in them by various organized religions that hold cultural power in America – especially Christianity, which leaves no room for other deities. The “random” collection of items captures a significant aspect of America – it’s a type of catch-all country that does encompass seemingly random elements, and so this eclectic collection is a fitting “holy place” for the country.
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
Mr. Nancy is smoking a cigarillo, and Czernobog lights a cigarette, musing that “our kind” like cigarettes because they act as reminders of the burnt offerings that humans used to sacrifice. Mr. Nancy laughs and says he’d rather have a woman. Mr. Nancy then looks at Shadow and affably comments that Shadow may be big but he looks as stupid as Mr. Nancy’s useless son. Shadow thanks Mr. Nancy for the compliment of being compared to Mr. Nancy’s family. Mr. Nancy nods appreciatively.
By “our kind,” Czernobog means gods, though Shadow is still not ready to accept that the gods are real. While Czernobog enjoys violent sacrifices, Mr. Nancy expresses a preference for sexual favors, equating sacrifice and sex in terms of the role they play in keeping the gods fed. Mr. Nancy is the American version of the West African trickster spider, Anansi, who has a flair for story-telling and insults (and who features in Gaiman’s book Anansi Boys). Shadow again reflects what people want to see in him, matching Mr. Nancy’s wit the same way he was accepted by Czernobog with their checkers wager.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Life, Death, Desire, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Deception Theme Icon
Mr. Nancy, Shadow, Czernobog, and Wednesday make their way to the House on the Rock’s famous carousel. Shadow is entranced by the magic and variety of the hundreds of animals circling the carousel. Wednesday and Mr. Nancy compare it to the world’s largest prayer wheel, then climb up despite the many signs that say that the carousel should not be ridden. Shadow, wary of being caught, reluctantly climbs up as well. Wednesday chooses a golden wolf, Czernobog rides an armored centaur, and Mr. Nancy chooses a leaping lion. Seeing the three old men completely happy, Shadow relaxes and decides the ride will be worth it even if they get thrown out. He mounts a creature with an eagle’s head and a tiger’s body and feels truly happy for the first time in three years.
A prayer wheel is a small spinning object of paper and wood meant to focus a person’s spiritual energy on their prayers. Likening the carousel to a prayer wheel explains why Wednesday would consider this one of the most important places in America – it is one of the places where he has the most power. Wednesday’s wolf references Odin’s traditional wolf companions, Geri and Feri, while Czernobog and Mr. Nancy’s mounts likewise match aspects of their godly personas. Shadow seems to be riding a completely made up hybrid creature with no previous myths associated with it – pointing to the fact that Shadow himself is a hybrid demi-god, with his own American story to tell aside from the patterns of the past.
Themes
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Change and Growth Theme Icon
Plurality and the Power of the Individual in America Theme Icon
The Sacredness of American Land Theme Icon