I am working on how I will teach American Gods. I am rereading Chapter 10.
How easy it is to reconstruct the self from nothing. Everything in this book is dependent upon previous knowledge of various myths, fairytales, biblical stories, etc. Every character fulfills the task they were bid to do in antiquity. Sometimes you are given names, other times just descriptions and it is up to you to figure out what is going on.
In this chapter the main character takes on the pseudonym Ainsel, relying on the Northumbrian fairytale of the same name (and a perfect parallel with the story of the meeting between Odysseus and Polyphemus). It would be an easy task to skip the inconsequential day to day of the chapter and head right into what Ainsel is there to do, completing the story as the townsfolk cry out against “no one”having done anything to them. But that would just create another parallel story, humorous as it may be.
The fascinating part is the way in which Ainsel creates himself. He is no one, but quickly builds his character and assimilates into the town. The mundane takes on a whole new importance. As he is telling his story (page 240), he reflects on how easily the narrative comes out, as he imprints his “history” onto a blank slate, one of the few characters in the novel that does not rely upon a loaded background, but rather fabricates himself as the story progresses and as he sees fit. He is given the chance to become that which he has always wanted, but could never before escape the reality of his life.
He tells the townspeople what they want to hear, and in the process creates the image of his true self. His real name is Shadow, derived from the Jungian shadow that encompasses the collective unconscious, much like he becomes everything to everyone in the town. Unlike for Freud, for Jung the shadow has the possibility to be either good or bad, even if usually leaning towards the negative. Shadow, in his real life is in fact mostly negative (despite all of his good intentions… but you know what they say about good intentions…). Here, as Ainsel, he can invert the self into the positive. And the Ainsel story becomes secondary. The focus is not on the outcome of this section where Ainsel, “no one” betrays and/or tricks those who trusted him, but rather on the lead up to the end, the process of becoming.
Gaiman, in writing this section, writes a story within a story. In researching the main character’s taken name (as by now in the novel it has become obvious that without name research very little makes sense), a new avenue opens up where narratives collide creating a far more intricate web of histories. There is a third narrative also taking place here. Can you figure out which one?