postmodern use of concepts in “City of Glass”

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Postmodernism in literature includes, among other aspects, the use of inconsistency, ambiguity, and the difference in the development of narratives. Obviously, Paul Auster’s “City of Glass” rebuffs and courtesy the realism and builds itself around coincidences, doubles, and superimpositions. It also combines the postmodern themes of intertextuality, metaphysical and playful imagery in the book. Using these elements, Paul Auster is in a position to explain the contraction of gender roles in the book.
In the book, female characters are portrayed in terms of their outward appearance rather than their occupation or their everyday life. Moreover, they are described passively, and as human beings of less value. On noticing a girl reading his book, “Quinn guessed her age at around twenty. There were several pimples on her left cheek, obscured by a pinkish smear of pancake makeup, and a wad of chewing gum was crackling in her mouth” (Auster, 1985, pg. 52). The character definition appears passive; like they have no responsibility as that of the main character. The playful language brings out the corporality description of women in the novel.

Evidently, female characters are defined sexuality, and as intertwined into a single concept, rather that different person with unique identities. Throughout the novel, female characters as a concept, are either someone’s wife, or mother -Auster’s dead wife, and Peter Stillman’s wife Virginia. In the same manner, when Quinn runs into Peter Stillman’s wife, he describes her according to her sexuality. He says, “The woman was thirty, perhaps thirty-five, average height at best; hips a touch wide, or else voluptuous, depending on your point of view; dark hair, dark eyes, and a look in those eyes that was at once self-contained and vaguely seductive” (Auster, 1985, pg.13). The image of the female characters is defined to suit the fantasies of the male fiction.

In the traditional detective cases, the detective character is displayed as a hero; passionate about his work, brilliant and analytical. However, postmodernism plays out in the case of Quinn, a traditional detective, who, unlike other traditional detectives, fails to solve a case (the Peter Stillman’s case). “He regretted having wasted many pages at the beginning of the red notebook, and in fact felt sorry that he had bothered to write about the Stillman case at all” (Auster, 1985, pg. 130). Moreover, Quinn fails to protect his family and does not live up to the expectation of a hero due to the death of his wife and child; failing a characteristic gender role and masculinity concept.

Quinns’s ideas towards the embodiment of the several personas indicated his ideas towards gender constructions. On shaping Max, the author says, “His private eye-narrator, Max Work, had solved an elaborate series of crimes, had suffered through a number of beatings and narrow escapes, and Quinn was feeling somewhat exhausted by his efforts” (Auster, 1985, pg. 6). The fights and the suffering was an expectation placed on a detective and Quinn was ready to emulate that in his detective work. When he is told of the dangers of the mission by Stillman, Quinn embodies the detective role and immediately becomes Stillman’s protector. The author states, “If Stillman was the man with the dagger, come back to avenge himself on the boy whose life he had destroyed, Quinn wanted to be there to stop him” (Auster, 1985, pg. 35). It was an expectation that is traditionally placed on a man to protect those under him, and to have the courage to fight.

In conclusion, “City of Glass” exposes the numerous gender role contraction through intertextuality, metafiction, and the use of playful language. The main character, Quinn, interacts with the author (the red notebook case) and construct personas that he embodies. By examining Quinn’s language and his actions – personally and through his personas – it the construction of gender roles is evident. The masculinity and femininity, as well as the societal expectation of both gender, is well defined using the aforementioned postmodern component.


Auster, P. (1985). The New York Trilogy. London: Feber

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