Americans, who come from a country that is relatively new (globally speaking), are known for constantly looking to the future rather than reflecting on the past. This focus on the future creates a culture of fast-paced change that the gods, since they derive power from peoples’ belief in them, must navigate in order to remain relevant to Americans. The novel shows many possible fates that the gods can suffer at the hands of time. Some become obsolete very quickly, like the god of trains, while others remain successful at the cost of their true nature, as with the goddess Easter, who still receives worship but is no longer remembered as the goddess Eostre. Other gods try to adapt, but cannot change quickly enough to keep up, as when Bilquis tries to use new technology, but ends up a casualty of the war between the Old Gods and the New.
Though all gods must adapt to survive, there is a generational and cultural divide among the “Old” gods who were brought by immigrants from other countries and the “New” gods that were conceived on American soil. The New Gods favor constant change in the name of progress, while the Old Gods try to relive the glory of their old lives in this new location. The New Gods love change above all, showing contempt for the past and erasing old traditions in favor of winning a constant stream of new worshippers in modern areas of influence. Technical Boy kills Bilquis while taunting her that she is a relic of the past, yet the very fact that he feels the need to kill her shows that the New Gods still feel as if the Old Gods represent some form of competition in the quickly shifting American culture. In contrast, the Old Gods are stuck in their attempts to cling to past glory and are thus unable to move forward in a changing America. They depend on reincarnation in America, hoping to repeat their previous success using the same tactics that worked in the old countries, as when Czernobog holds on to his old life instead of improving conditions for himself and his sisters in modern Chicago.
Since each of these perspectives is inadequate to ensuring the gods’ survival in modern America, Shadow must learn to blend these two approaches, which he does when he performs the death ritual at the end of the book. He reinvents this old tradition, keeping its spirit and parts of its form, but updating its content to include elements from modern life. Because Shadow blends aspects of the past with the breakneck change of the future, he is able to grow and change as a person without cutting himself off from the rich foundation of the past. Gaiman positions this blend of preservation and modernization as a new model for the gods, and the best way for them to honor tradition while still adapting to change. In fact, this tactic could be said to be the foundation of Gaiman’s book itself: Gaiman breathes new life into old legends and puts them alongside contemporary American culture in order to contextualize secular aspects of culture and belief within a long religious and mythological tradition.
Change and Growth ThemeTracker
Change and Growth Quotes in American Gods
"These are the gods who have passed out of memory. Even their names are lost. The people who worshiped them are as forgotten as their gods. Their totems are long since broken and cast down. Their last priests died without passing on their secrets.
"Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end."
"The land is vast. Soon enough, our people abandoned us, remembered us only as creatures of the old land, as things that had not come with them to the new. Our true believers passed on, or stopped believing, and we were left, lost and scared and dispossessed, to get by on what little smidgens of worship or belief we could find…
"We have, let us face it and admit it, little influence. We prey on them, and we take from them, and we get by; we strip and we whore and we drink too much; we pump gas and we steal and we cheat and we exist in the cracks at the edges of society. Old gods, here in this new land without gods."
Shall we go out onto the street, Easter my dear, and repeat the exercise? Find out how many passers-by know that their Easter festival takes its name from Eostre of the Dawn?
"I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren't true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they're true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marilyn Monroe… I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone's ass…”
"Would you believe that all the gods that people have ever imagined are still with us today?"
“And that there are new gods out there, gods of computers and telephones and whatever, and that they all seem to think there isn't room for them both in the world. And that some kind of war is kind of likely.”
And as for keeping my word, well, these preliminary talks are being filmed and broadcast live," and he gestured back toward the camera. "Some of your people are watching as we speak. Others will see video-tapes. Others will be told, by those they trust. The camera does not lie."
"Everybody lies," said Wednesday.
When he was opposite Shadow, he paused. "God, I hate you," he said. He wished he could just have taken out a gun and shot him, and he knew that he could not. And then he jabbed the stick in the air toward the hanging man, in a stabbing motion. It was an instinctive gesture, containing all the frustration and rage inside Town. He imagined that he was holding a spear and twisting it into Shadow's guts.
“Call no man happy until he is dead. Herodotus.” Mr. Nancy raised a white eyebrow, and he said, "I'm not dead yet, and, mostly because I’m not dead yet, I'm happy as a clamboy.”
“The Herodotus thing. It doesn't mean that the dead are happy,” said Shadow. “It means that you can't judge the shape of someone's life until it's over and done.”