American Gods

American Gods


Neil Gaiman

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Themes and Colors
Mythology, Belief, and Community Theme Icon
Change and Growth 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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in American Gods, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Deception Theme Icon

Deception and lies follow all the characters throughout their journeys in American Gods,. This trickery may be profitable in the short term, but Gaiman shows that deception will never help a person achieve long lasting success. This suggests that, though Gaiman sees deception as an inescapable part of human life, he nonetheless sees an unimpeachable value in fighting for truth. Most people (and gods) live their entire lives in a state of deception; the prevalence of deceit makes the truth even more powerful because it is so rare.

Gaiman opens the novel with a reference to Herodotus, who is known simultaneously as the father of history and the father of lies. Intertwining history (which is assumed to be truthful) with lies creates an atmosphere in which very little can be trusted at face value. Herodotus follows Shadow throughout the novel, becoming somewhat of an intellectual mentor as Shadow learns how to navigate the layers of deception involved in the world of the gods. All the gods lie in some way to the people who worship them, hoping to hide their flaws to ensure that those who love them will never abandon them. The Old Gods conceal their identities behind mundane facades, trying to hide how much of their power they have lost, while the New Gods promise the American people happiness or prosperity despite their inability to give satisfaction to their worshippers. Even Mr. Wednesday (Odin), the master grifter with divine control over lies, is undone by his deception at the end of the novel as Gaiman shows that the best possible lying still cannot grant anyone long-term success.

As lies and deception are the normal state for most of the characters, the truth becomes a very powerful force in the novel. The truth about what really goes on in American mythology, seen in the “Backstage” experience, is too potent for mortals to handle for long; even Shadow becomes physically ill when faced with the gods stripped of all the disguises that these figures usually wear. However, after his death and sacrifice, Shadow follows the path of Hard Truths, and once he can fully confront the truth, he learns to harness its power. Shadow becomes powerful, then, precisely because he is able to cut through all of Mr. Wednesday’s and Hinzelmann’s lies at the end of the novel, revealing their cons to the other gods and the citizens of Lakeside. Shadow, thought to be a mortal throughout the book, reaches god-like status when he tells the truth and settles the lies that the other gods have told. Through Shadow, the novel shows that finding the truth is one way that humans can take control over their own lives, cutting through the duplicitous meddling of the gods. Deception has its place in everyday life, but the truth is what makes human life truly transcendent.

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Deception Quotes in American Gods

Below you will find the important quotes in American Gods related to the theme of Deception.
Chapter 1 Quotes

And the moral of this story, according to Johnnie Larch, was this: don't piss off people who work in airports.
“Are you sure it's not something like ‘kinds of behavior that work in a specialized environment, such as a prison, can fail to work and in fact become harmful when used outside such an environment’?” said Shadow, when Johnnie Larch told him the story.
“No, listen to me, I'm telling you, man,” said Johnnie Larch, “don't piss off those bitches in airports.”

Related Characters: Shadow Moon (Baldur) (speaker), Johnnie Larch
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

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."

Related Characters: Laura Moon (speaker), Shadow Moon (Baldur)
Related Symbols: Shadow’s Coins
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:
Coming to America. 1721. Quotes

The important thing to understand about American history, wrote Mr. Ibis, in his leather-bound journal, is that it is fictional, a charcoal-sketched simplicity for the children, or the easily bored. For the most part it is uninspected, unimagined, unthought, a representation of the thing, and not the thing itself.

Related Characters: Mr. Ibis (Thoth) (speaker)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

"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."

Related Characters: Mr. Wednesday (Odin) (speaker)
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

"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?"

Related Characters: Mad Sweeney (speaker), Shadow Moon (Baldur), Mr. Wednesday (Odin)
Related Symbols: Shadow’s Coins
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

"You shouldn't think badly of the town because of this," said Brogan. "It is a good town." …
"So what I'm saying is that Lakeside's lucky. We've got a little of everything here—farm, light industry, tourism, crafts. Good schools."
Shadow looked at her in puzzlement. There was something empty at the bottom of all her words. It was as if he were listening to a salesman, a good salesman, who believed in his product, but still wanted to make sure you went home with all the brushes or the full set of encyclopedias.

Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

"Take a sip of this," he said. "Only a sip."
The liquid was pungent, and it evaporated in his mouth like a good brandy, although it did not taste like alcohol. Wednesday took the flask away, and pocketed it. "It's not good for the audience to find themselves walking about backstage. That's why you're feeling sick. We need to hurry to get you out of here."

Related Characters: Mr. Wednesday (Odin) (speaker), Shadow Moon (Baldur)
Page Number: 307
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mr. Wednesday (Odin) (speaker), Mr. World (Low Key Lyesmith / Loki) (speaker)
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

“It's never a matter of old and new. It's only about patterns. Now. My stick, please."
"Why do you want it?"
"It's a souvenir of this whole sorry mess," said Mr. World. "Don't worry, it's not mistletoe." He flashed a grin. "It symbolizes a spear, and in this sorry world, the symbol is the thing."

Related Symbols: The Ash Stick
Page Number: 468
Explanation and Analysis: