Shadow often does small coin tricks throughout the novel, but there are two coins in particular that take on greater significance. His gold coin symbolizes the sun, while his silver coin symbolizes the moon. Taking literally the idea that these heavenly bodies “watch over” the earth, both these coins offer protection in different ways. Together, they represent the importance of balance and duality, gold and silver, life and death, the sun and the moon.
The gold coin that Shadow takes from the “treasure of the sun” is supposed to belong only to the King of America, marking Shadow as American royalty because he is able to take it from the sun’s hoard. As well as connecting Shadow to his true nature as the sun god Baldur of Norse mythology, the coin literally represents new life. It has the power to grant Laura a chance at life even after she dies, reanimating her corpse so that she can help protect Shadow. Thus the gold coin protects Shadow indirectly, channeling his own power as a sun god through Laura as Laura fights to keep Shadow safe. The silver coin, itself bearing the American symbol of liberty in the face of the Statue of Liberty, in some sense offers Shadow freedom from death. As long as Shadow has the silver coin, he is protected from death by the New Gods. When Shadow chooses to die as a sacrifice for Odin, the silver coin becomes the moon and lights Shadow’s way through the underworld. Thus the silver coin gives Shadow freedom again once he dies and is reborn knowing his full identity as Odin’s son. Shadow is then able to use his power as the sun god completely, plucking another gold coin from the sun’s hoard at the end of the novel, once Shadow is free from all the manipulations of the other gods.
More than the life-giving and protective powers of the coins themselves, the coins also represent Shadow’s affinity for both the Old Gods and the New Gods. The gold coin ties Shadow to the traditional sun god mythos, but it also shows his essential American nature by naming him the “King of America.” The silver coin is given to Shadow by Zorya Polunochnaya, an old Slavic goddess of the moon and the night, showing that Shadow is blessed by the Old Gods even as it guides him through the underworld where he becomes a New God born of American belief. The coins thus show Shadow’s identity both as a reincarnation of an established god and a completely new god in his own right. As Shadow taps into the magic power of these coins, he blends both of these roles and reinvents what gods can do in America and in the American psyche.
Shadow’s Coins Quotes in American Gods
She did not look at him. "You've gotten yourself mixed up in some bad things, Shadow. You're going to screw it up, if someone isn't there to watch out for you. I'm watching out for you. And thank you for my present."
"You were given protection once, but you lost it already. You gave it away. You had the sun in your hand. And that is life itself. All I can give you is much weaker protection. The daughter, not the father. But all helps. Yes?" Her white hair blew about her face in the chilly wind, and Shadow knew that it was time to go back inside.
"Do I have to fight you? Or play checkers?" he asked.
"You do not even have to kiss me," she told him. “Just take the moon."
"I did it like he said. I did it all like he said, but I gave you the wrong coin. It wasn't meant to be that coin. That's for royalty. You see? I shouldn't even have been able to take it. That's the coin you'd give to the King of America himself…
"You did it like who said, Sweeney?"
"Grimnir. The dude you call Wednesday. You know who he is? Who he really is?"