Discussion Questions: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

In 1939, a young escape artist and budding magician named Joe Kavalier arrives in New York City on the doorstep of his cousin, Sammy Clay. With Hitler’s shadow falling across Europe, America relishes the Golden Age of comic books. In Brooklyn, Sammy is looking for a way to cash in on the craze. He finds the ideal partner in his cousin, the aloof, artistically gifted Joe. Together they embark on an adventure that takes them deep into the heart of Manhattan, and the heart of old-fashioned American ambition. From the shared fears, dreams and desires of two teenage boys, they spin comic book tales of the heroic, fascist-fighting Escapist and the beautiful, mysterious Luna Moth, otherworldly mistress of the night. Climbing from the streets of Brooklyn to the top of the Empire State Building, Joe and Sammy carve out vivid and surprising lives and careers. Spanning continents and eras, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, one of America’s finest writers, is a defining novel of modern America.

Discussion Questions

  1. Transformations and alter egos of superheroes during the Golden Age of the Comic Book mesmerized Sam Clay, and like these fictional characters, he also experienced a transformation. What did Sam gain (or lose) in his own transformation? What conclusions can we draw about the meaning of transformation as we seek to find our own place in society?
  2. Josef Kavalier struggled to embrace success in New York, but was also burdened by his family’s difficulties at the hands of the Nazis in Europe. These conflicts both energize and propel him to fame and fortune. If you could have a dialogue with Josef, how might you help him reconcile these conflicts and move forward with his life?
  3. What is your definition of a hero? Has your understanding of heroism changed after reading this story?
  4. What connections can we draw between Sam and Joe’s heroes and their own aspirations? Would you consider Sam and Joe heroes?
  5. What do comic books mean to Joe, Sam and the other teenage artists they represent? Why is this genre so captivating? How did this story affect your opinion of comic books or graphic novels?
  6. The Escapist’s anti-Nazi statements and actions concerned Sam and Joe’s employers and publishers. What are the challenges of balancing social advocacy and private enterprise? Can you think of any issues today which would provide a similar challenge?
  7. This story describes many instances of minority groups being vilified whether for their religious affiliation, sexual orientation, national origin or other characteristics. Why do you think those who are perceived as “different” are so often targeted? What is threatening about the concept of “otherness”?
  8. Why was it so difficult for Sam to accept being gay? Does he come to terms with his sexuality? If the story were set today, would Sam face the same obstacles and discrimination as evident in Post WWII America?
  9. How do the conflicts of WWII affect Sam and Joe’s creative and professional development and their personal friendship and relationships with others? What does being Jewish mean to each of them?
  10. This novel takes us through various New York City neighborhoods, each with their own distinctive heritage and character. Given that Chicago is also known as the city of neighborhoods, how important is your neighborhood’s sense of identity to you and your community?
  11. What is the significance of the golem in this story and why is it so important to preserve this folklore tradition?
  12. Did you find the ending to the story satisfying? If not, how would you like this story to end?