Discussion (SPOILERS)- American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Do you think that an author must be a native born American in order to accurately write a great American novel or what it means to be an American? Explain.

“Nobody’s American,” said Wednesday, “Not originally” p96. Do you agree? Why or why not? What makes someone American?

When you were first introduced to Shadow’s prison mate Low Key, did you immediately recognize him as the Norse god Loki?

Assuming that Odin doesn’t reveal the gods’ true identities to Shadow because he doesn’t think Shadow will believe it right away, why does Gaiman not reveal the gods’ identities to the readers?

Who is Shadow? What is the significance of his name?

What is the significance of coins in American Gods? What is the significance of coin tricks?

What did you think of the sections about the gods that were not included in the main portion of the book? For example, the Jinn? Did you like how that was done? Did you enjoy those stories? Or did they distract you from the main story? Were they too weird?

American Gods is one of those books that has a potential to make more sense to the reader after finishing it and doing some research into who the characters are. Do you enjoy these kinds of books? Do you prefer to know who the characters are ahead of time? Would you like to have seen a list of characters at the end of the book along with a description of their story?

“Shadow was not superstitious. He did not believe in anything he could not see” p6. Is the message of the book ultimately an atheistic message- god does not create man, man creates god? What did you think of the multiple versions of each god? When Shadow meets another incarnation of Odin, Odin tells Shadow about Wednesday, “”He was me, yes. But I am not him.”

One of Mr. Ibis’ histories appears in the book before the reader actually meets him. When you finally met Mr. Ibis, did you remember that you had already read one of his histories? Did you like the timing of this?

“This is the only country in the world,” said Wednesday, into the stillness, “that worries about what it is” p105. What does Wednesday mean? Do you agree? Why or why not?

When they get to the Carousel, Wednesday comments that it’s not there to be ridden, “It’s there to be admired. It’s there to be” p114. What do you think of this statement? Do you find yourself looking for a reason for most things? Does it make you uncomfortable to simply accept things without looking for some deeper meaning? Does this statement have any theistic significance? If so, what?

“Now, as all of you will have had reason aplenty to discover for yourselves, there are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods of credit card and freeway, of internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon. Proud gods, fat and foolish creatures, puffed up with their own newness and importance” p123. What do you think of this statement?

Why didn’t the Jinn reveal his name? Did Salim turn into the Jinn? did the Jinn ultimately grant Salim’s wish?

“This, I believe, is because people like to know what they are getting ahead of time. Thus McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, F. W. Woolworth (of blessed memory): store brands maintained and visible across the entire country. Wherever you go, you will get something that is, with small regional variations, the same” p172. Do you agree? Do you think this is particular of Americans or do you think people all around the world are like this as well? If just Americans, why do you think it is particular to Americans?

“Mostly you are what they think you are” p173. Do you think this is true, you are what people think you are?

“I feel very sorry for the professionals whenever they find another confusing skull, something that belonged to the wrong sort of people, or whenever they find statues or artifacts that confuse them- for they’ll talk about the odd, but they won’t talk about the impossible, which is where I feel sorry for them, for as soon as something becomes impossible it slipslides out of belief entirely, whether it is true or not” p175. Do you agree? Explain. What theistic implications does this quote have?

When Shadow gets on the Carousel, he selects an animal that has the body of a tiger and the head of an eagle. Is this significant? If so, what is the significance?

When Shadow is at the mortuary with Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel, why do you think the clothes they provide him always fit?

“Death had vanished from the streets of America, thought shadow; now it happened in hospital rooms and in ambulances” p197. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Explain.

Who is the buffalo man? What does the cave signify?

Did you pay attention to the physical location descriptions? Did you enjoy them? Do you think it added to the story? If so, how?

What did you think of Lakeside? Did you enjoy Hinzelmann’s stories? Do you enjoy tall tales? Or do you find them annoying?

Wednesday asks Shadow why he doesn’t argue or exclaim that everything he is seeing is impossible and Shadow replies that ever since he found out Laura was having an affair, that everything else just “sits on the surface” p302. Why is that the most difficult thing for Shadow to accept?

Why do you think Jesus Christ was left out of the main story? Gaiman went back and forth with his inclusion and ultimately left it out because it was too big. What do you think that means? Do you think Jesus’ inclusion would have overshadowed the story? With the strong Christian tradition in the United States, do you think it was a mistake not to include Shadow’s meeting with Jesus in the main story of an American novel?

What did you think of the forgotten god? Who is the woman he is looking for? Who is the forgotten god? Explain your logic. Neil Gaiman was going to reveal who the god was but after a reader requested he did not, Gaiman changed his mind. Do you wish he had revealed the identity of the forgotten god?

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American Gods contains both the magical and the mundane, a fantastic world of divine beings and bizarre happenings and a world of prisons, rundown roadside attractions, and quaint small towns. How is Gaiman able to bring these worlds together in the novel? How does he manage to make their coexistence believable?

What is the cultural significance of the war between the gods of old and the “new gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon”? In what ways have Americans transferred their devotion from spiritual to material and technological gods? What are the consequences of such a shift?

Gaiman, who now lives in the U.S., is originally from England. How might his perspective as a relative outsider affect his view of America? In what ways can American Gods be read as a satire or critique of American life?

What makes Shadow such a compelling protagonist? What are his most appealing qualities? At what crucial points in the novel does he demonstrate courage, compassion, intelligence, a willingness to sacrifice himself? What does his relationship with Laura reveal about him? What is the significance of his obsession with coin tricks?

What role do dreams play in American Gods? What are some of Shadow’s more vivid and unusual dreams? Why does the Buffalo Man tell him in a dream to “believe everything”?

The narrator, discussing how we relate to the suffering of others, writes that “Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out thorough other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page and close the book, and we resume our lives.” What does American Gods reveal by letting readers see through the eyes of a collection of down-at-heel and nearly forgotten divinities? What vicarious deaths does it allow us to experience?

After shortchanging a waitress, Wednesday tells Shadow that the American people “don’t sacrifice rams or bulls to me. They don’t send me the souls of killers and slaves, gallows-hung and raven-picked. They made me. They forgot me. Now I take a little back from them. Isn’t that fair?” What are the implications of a god like Odin becoming, essentially, a con-man? What is the biggest con he tries to pull off in the novel?

What do the old gods need to stay alive and vital? What means do they use to get what they need? What is Gaiman suggesting about the nature of divinity, sacrifice, and devotion?

Late in the novel, the narrator says that “Religions are, by definition, metaphors…. Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.” Would you agree with this assertion? What are the gods in American Gods metaphors for? What is the difference between a world view based on worship, sacrifice, and belief in the divine and a world view based on the accumulation of material wealth and comfort?

Who are some of the more colorful and vividly drawn secondary characters—human and divine—in the novel? What do they add to the overall impression of the book? How do they affect Shadow?

What does the novel imply about the reality of life in small-town America? What darker truth lies behind the pleasant idyll of Lakewood, Wisconsin?

At the end of the novel, Shadow thinks to himself: “People believe…. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine and people believe: and it is that belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen.” Would you agree that what people believe in are largely projections of their own needs and desires? In what ways does the novel itself confirm or refute this idea?

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Where is Shadow at the beginning of American Gods? Where is he at the end? Of the many characters he encounters along the way, which did you find most memorable? What did you make of Shadow’s obsession with coin tricks? How did you interpret his determination to participate in the vigil for Wednesday?

How does Laura die? Were you surprised by what happens at her funeral? How does she come to Shadow’s aid? What explains the phenomenon of her persistence in the world of the living? How does Shadow release her from her state of limbo?

How would you describe Wednesday? How does he interact with Shadow at the start of the book? Did you find any of his grifter schemes especially entertaining? What is his connection to Odin? By the end of American Gods, what relationship between Wednesday and Shadow is revealed?

Who is Czernobog? How would you describe him? What is his relationship with the three Zoryas? What did you make of this group? What role did they play in Shadow’s experiences?

“There are new gods growing in America … gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon.” How do you interpret this remark? Do you think there’s any element of truth to it?

How would you describe Shadow’s sojourn in Lakeside, Wisconsin? How do Hinzelmann, Chad Mulligan, Marge Olsen, and Missy Gunther treat their mysterious new neighbor?

Who is Alison McGovern and how does Shadow come to know her? What clue enables Shadow to determine her killer? What did you think of the outcome of this mystery?

“Would you believe that all of the gods that people have ever imagined are still with us today?” Shadow asks this question of Samantha Black Crow. Do you find this premise compelling? Did any elements of the plot of American Gods push this idea in interesting directions?

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