Amy Rae 001313322
Prof. James King
14, November 2016
Father-Son Narrative: A Reconstruction of the Father-Son Relationships in Paul Auster’s Moon Palace
In literature, the relationship seen between a father and a son is often observed, and regularly used to strengthen the intended message in a novel. Paul Auster’s Moon Palace looks at the father-son relationship from an unconventional role, challenging the reader to question whether or not the novel is truly representative of a father-son narrative. I argue that through a close analysis of the relationship between M.S. Fogg and his Uncle Victor, as well as his relationship with his unbeknownst grandfather Thomas Effing that the ‘typical’ notion of a father-son narrative changes. By comparing these significant relationships to that of M.S.’s short lived relationship with his biological father, it becomes clear that Auster continually constructs and reconstructs M.S.’s idea of what a ‘father’ truly is. In turn, by comparing a more traditional sense of a father-son narrative, to that which Auster presents to the reader, one may question what a father-son narrative is and whether or not Moon Palace accurately represents this relationship. In order to evaluate the narrative illustrated in this novel, I begin by looking to the most meaningful relationships between M.S. and the various father figures’ presented in the novel, and then compare those relationships to the relationship with his biological father Solomon Barber. This is significant as it challenges the reader to engage critically with the role of these relationships in relation to a father-son narrative.
Often, when it comes to the exploration of a father-son narrative in literature, the reader looks specifically at the relationship between the protagonist and his biological/adopted father in order to draw conclusions from the novel. While this may not always be the case in literature, as many intimate relationships in a novel may be examined as depictive of a father-son narrative, Auster’s Moon Palace approaches this relationship differently than most. The main factor that differentiates this novel from others that focus on the father-son relationship, is not merely looking to someone other than the biological father in the relationship, but considering unique father-like relations between the protagonist and two different men in his life, in accompaniment with his biological father. This changes the dynamic of the novel, making it one with a continual changing opinion of what a father is and who can play the role of a father in someone’s life.
When considering M.S.’s connections to older men in Moon Palace, it is made evident from the beginning of the novel that Victor Fogg is the first adult man he looks up to as a child. Because his mother tells him from a young age that his biological father is dead, M.S. constructs a new conception of what a father is. M.S. speaks to the little information he is given about his father saying, “[t]here was no evidence of him anywhere in the house. Not one photograph, not even a name” (Auster 4). It is only natural for a young boy with no information about their father to believe his mother’s lie that he is dead, and in place choose to view his Uncle Victor as the most important man in his life. Victor’s death is mentioned in the beginning of the novel when M.S. describes how it affects him stating; “[t]his death was a terrible blow for me; in many ways it was the worst blow I had ever had. Not only was Uncle Victor the person I had loved most in the world, he was my only relative, my one link to something larger than myself” (Auster 3). Here M.S. constructs what a father-son relationship looks like in his mind, placing emphasis on the fact that his Uncle Victor is the only blood related family member he had left. By addressing this fact, it is clear that M.S. considers biological family a critical part of this relationship. Apart from the fact that Victor is a blood relative, he also acts in the place of M.S.’s father while he grows up and for many years after his mother has passed, making their relationship of extreme significance.
Victor continues to have a significant impact on M.S. long after he leaves and suddenly dies (Auster 3). M.S. cherishes all of the items Victor leaves behind for him, such as the books and his clothing. When M.S. describes his struggle to survive, he is deeply saddened to have to sell his Uncle Victor’s belongings but knows he has to if he is to continue living. Oddly enough, when it comes down to the last item M.S. still has – Victor’s clarinet – he fights even the thought of selling it to survive:
I am ashamed to admit it now, I nearly buckled under and sold it. […] As time went on, I realized how close I had come to committing an unpardonable sin. The clarinet was my last link to Uncle Victor, and because it was the last, because there were no other traces of him, it carried the entire force of his soul within it. Whenever I looked at it, I was able to feel that force within myself. It was something to cling to, a piece of wreckage to keep me afloat. (Auster 42)
M.S. feels so deeply connected to Victor that he chooses to hold onto the clarinet as a means of holding on to the father-son relationship he shared with him. He uses the last object of Victor’s to help with his mind over matter ideology, in attempt to survive. M.S. finds comfort and familiarity in Victor’s objects because he has had him as a father figure for so many years. This is especially illustrated when his mother passes when he is eleven (Auster 3), and Victor takes on the responsibility of raising M.S. as if he is his own child. While M.S knows holding onto Victor’s clarinet, opposed to selling it for food, will not sustain his life, he cannot bear to let go and that speaks volumes about his emotions towards Victor.
Another significant aspect of the father-son narrative is seen through M.S.’s relationship with Thomas Effing. While this relationship is one that develops in various ways throughout the novel, it is arguably the strongest father-son relationship depicted. This is due to the understanding both M.S. and Effing have for each other and develop over time, as well as similarities they share in terms of their history and the lives they lead before they meet. During their first interaction, Effing sets the tone for the rest of their relationship saying, “you’ll probably grow to hate me. Just remember that its all for your own good. There’s a hidden purpose in everything I do, and it’s not for you to judge” (Auster 105). Although their relationship starts off rocky, and there are times in which M.S. does find himself hating Effing, it eventually leads to a strong relationship.
It is when Effing decides to open himself up more to M.S. that one begins to see their relationship develop and how they grow closer through the writing of Effing’s obituary. After Effing describes his time spent in the hermit’s cave, M.S. recognizes that they share in an experience of extreme loneliness, saying; “I had my own memories of living in a cave, after all, and when he described the loneliness he had felt then, it struck me that he was somehow describing the same things I had felt” (Auster 183). While the development of M.S’s relationship with Effing is gradual, making these types of connections from Effing’s story to his own past experiences brings them closer. While they both are hesitant to continue their relationship at many points in the novel, by sharing this moment of explaining their loneliness, they realize that they need each other in their lives. M.S. and Effing never say this to each other directly, but by critically analyzing the way they interact, it becomes apparent that they need each other to escape the loneliness in their lives. They grow their father-son relationship through the dependence they have on each other in terms of companionship – especially for Effing.
Further into the novel, M.S. begins to discover more similarities him and Effing share. He says; “Effing told me that he went crazy, but I wasn’t sure how literally I was supposed to take that word. […] I had done my fair share of screaming during the storm in Central Park, and my situation had been far less desperate than his” (Auster 165). Here M.S. understands and shares in the whirlwind of emotions that result from the situations they have previously gotten themselves into. While he never tells the story to Effing, it appears as if he takes comfort in knowing that he is not the only person who has lost control of their life at one point. By tapping into these emotional memories and making a connection between M.S.’s past and Effing’s, Auster begins to reconstruct his idea of what a father-son narrative truly is. At this point M.S. has not forgotten about Victor, but has found someone else to learn from, listen to and receive life advice from. Well he does not naïvely take everything Effing says literally, or as personal advice, he is able to connect his stories to his own life. In turn, this creates a much stronger bond between them, as M.S. can relate to Effing as well as better understand why he is the way he is. This begs one to question how the father-son narrative shifts throughout the novel and if that affects Moon Palace as a father-son narrative in of itself. By examining his relationship with Effing, one begins to learn that Auster constructs an ever-changing depiction of the father-son narrative.
After closely exploring the relationships M.S. has with both Victor and Effing, it is clear that it is representative of a father-son relationship. By looking to M.S.’s relationship with his estranged, biological father, Solomon, and comparing it to his other male relationships in the novel, one achieves a higher understand of how the father-son narrative is constructed in Moon Palace. Observing M.S.’s relationship with Solomon allows one to see how Auster once again reconstructs the father-son narrative. M.S. is unable to achieve a traditional father-son relationship with Solomon, due to the lack of time they have to get to know each other personally, as well as not knowing he was his biological father from the beginning of the narrative.
As Solomon Barber comes into M.S.’s life quite late in the novel, it is difficult for him to cultivate the deep and meaningful relationships he’s built with both Victor and Effing. Beginning his relationship with Solomon, not knowing that he is his father, puts an unintentional strain on their relationship. While M.S. and Solomon share in the fact that they both spent many years not knowing who their father was, it is evident that they do not have enough time together before Solomon’s death to secure the type of father-son relationship he builds with Victor and Effing. Although time plays a significant role in how their relationship progresses, once M.S. and Kitty break up and he lives with Solomon, one is able to see how Solomon tries to strengthen his father-like relationship with him. This is seen by the way in which he attempts to take on a fatherly role in M.S.’s life by trying to help fix his relationship with Kitty. Auster writes,
Barber was distressed. He knew that something awful had happened, but neither Kitty, nor I would tell him what it was. At first, he took it upon himself to act as go-between, talking to one of us and then going to the other to report on the conversation, but for all his shuttling back and forth, he never made any progress. (Auster 284)
It is because Solomon has not spent any time as a father that he reacts in such a way, acting more like a meddling and concerned friend. This is where the reader is able to recognize that due to the lack of time M.S. and Solomon have together, their father-son relationship is not capable of developing any faster. At this point Solomon is not quite able to help comfort M.S. because he has had no experience in how to help his child through a personal problem in the past. Unfortunately, their relationship only scratches the surface of a relationship they could have had, if M.S. had grown up with his father in his life.
While M.S. unmistakably has a deep connection with Victor and Effing, he does come to grow a deeper connection with Solomon after finding out he is his biological father. After learning of this news he says,
No matter how hard I might have dreamed of finding my father, I had never thought it would be possible. Now that I had found him, the inner disruption was so great that my first impulse was to deny it. Barber was not the cause of the denial, it was the situation itself. He was the best friend I had, and I loved him. If there was any man in the world I would have chosen to be my father, he was the one. But still, I couldn’t do it. (Auster 295)
This quote reveals the impact time has on their relationship. It begs the reader to question whether or not the father-son dynamic would have been any different in the novel if Solomon had told M.S. he was his biological father sooner. Although M.S. acknowledges his feelings of love towards Solomon he is unable to recognize him as his father. This is once again due to the lack of time M.S. has to process the information before Solomon’s death. Finding out Solomon is his real father nearly right before his death, engages him in the reconstructing of his idea of what a father-son relationship constitutes. Here M.S. is consciously aware that although they have certain aspects that make up that kind of relationship, they do not have enough time to learn more about each other and this ultimately is what restricts him from seeing him as his father. Placing blame not on Solomon, but on the situation itself, demonstrates his knowledge that their relationship could have been much stronger if only they had developed one sooner. This distinguishes the difference between his relationships with Victor and Effing, as it showcases the lack of a foundation to their relationship.
After taking a closer look at the three significant male relationships M.S. has in Moon Palace, it is apparent that Auster displays the father-son narrative in a unique way. M.S. is found to subconsciously be constructing and reconstructing his own idea of what a father-son relationship looks like from the beginning of the novel. When one father-like relationship ends – inevitably through death – M.S. finds himself building a relationship with another father figure. After M.S. develops strong relationships with Victor and Effing, and it comes to his relationship with Solomon, he is forced to change his perspective on what a father means to him, yet again. This demonstrates how Auster works to challenge the conventional father-son narrative by allowing M.S. to create relationships with father figures other than his biological father. Allowing M.S. to find a father figure in more than one man, forces one to contemplate how Auster reworks the father-son narrative, while encapsulating the significance of the several relationships he cultivates.
Auster, P. Moon Palace. London, England: Penguin, 1989. Print.