From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Moon Palace is a novel written by Paul Auster that was first published in 1989.
Fogg is an orphan, and his Uncle Victor is his only caretaker. The story begins when Fogg goes to college and lives in a college dormitory. One year later he moves into his own apartment furnished with 1492 books given to him by Uncle Victor. Uncle Victor dies before Fogg finishes college and leaves him without friends, family or money. Fogg becomes an introvert and spends his time reading. He thinks, "Why should I get a job? I have enough to do living through the days." After selling the books in order to earn money Fogg loses his apartment and lives in Central Park. He also meets Kitty Wu and begins a furious romance after he had been rescued from Central Park by his friend Zimmer and Kitty Wu. However, he does find a job taking care of Thomas Effing, who, he learns much later, is his grandfather.
Fogg learns about the complicated history of his parents, and Effings' previous identity as the painter Julian Barber. When Effing dies, leaving money to Fogg, Fogg and Kitty Wu set up a house together in Chinatown. After an abortion Fogg breaks up with Kitty Wu and travels across the U.S. to search for himself. He begins his journey with his father Solomon Barber, who dies shortly after an accident on Westlawn Cemetery, where Fogg's mother is buried. Fogg continues their journey alone, which ends on a lonely California beach. Fogg muses, "This is where I start, [...] this is where my life begins."
From Uncle Victor to Washington University
Marco Stanley Fogg, aka M.S., is the son of Emily Fogg. He doesn't know his father. His mother dies because of a car accident when he is eleven years old. He moves to his Uncle Victor's, who raises him until Marco goes to a boarding school in Chicago. When he reaches college age, he goes to Columbia University in New York City. After spending his freshman year in a college dormitory, he rents an apartment in New York.
Uncle Victor dies, which makes Marco lose track. After paying the funeral costs, Marco realizes that very little of the money that Uncle Victor gave him is left. He decides to let himself decay, to get out of touch with the world. He makes no effort to earn money. His electricity is cut off, he loses weight, and finally he is told that he must leave his apartment. The day before he is thrown out, Marco decides to ask Zimmer, an old college friend with whom he has lost contact, for help. Zimmer has moved to another apartment, so when Marco arrives at Zimmer's old apartment, he is invited by some strangers to join their breakfast. At that breakfast he meets Kitty Wu for the first time. She seems to fall in love with him. The next day, Marco has to leave his flat, and finds himself on the streets of Manhattan.
Central Park becomes Marco's new home. He finds shelter from the pressure of the Manhattan streets. He finds food in the garbage cans. Marco even manages to stay in touch with what is going on in the world by reading newspapers left by visitors. Although life in Central Park is not very comfortable, he feels at ease because he's enjoying his solitude and he finds a balance between the inner and the outer self.
At first, the weather is very good, so where to stay is not a big problem. But after a few weeks the weather changes. In a strong rain shower, Marco becomes ill and retires to a cave in Central Park. After some days of delirium, he crawls out of the cave and has wild hallucinations while lying outside. There, he is finally found by Zimmer and Kitty Wu, who have been looking for him for the whole time. Due to fever he has hallucinations of Indians and calls Kitty Pocahontas.
Zimmer (the German word for room) is a good friend of Marco and he hosts Marco in his apartment, where Marco recovers slowly. One day, Marco has to go to the army physical, where he is rated unfit because of his poor physical and mental state. Marco feels very bad about living on Zimmer's costs, so he finally persuades him to let him do a French translation for him to earn some money. Then he meets Kitty again.
After he has finished his work on the translation, Marco searches for another job offer. He finds a job at Effing's, where he is hired for reading books to Effing and driving the old, blind and disabled man through the city of New York in his wheelchair. Effing is a strange man who tries to teach Marco in his own way, taking nothing for granted. Marco has to describe to Effing all the things he can see while driving around. This way, Marco learns to look at the things around him very precisely. After, Effing tells Marco to do the main work he was hired for: Write his obituary. Effing tells him the main facts of his life as the famous painter Julian Barber and his conversion to Thomas Effing. He went to Utah with Byrne, a topographer, and Scoresby, a guide, to paint the vast country. Byrne fell from a high place and the guide flees from the place, leaving Barber alone in the middle of the desert. Barber finds a cave where a hermit used to live and begins to live there. He kills the Gresham brothers, 3 bandits, and takes the money to San Francisco, where he officially takes the name "Thomas Effing". He becomes rich, but one day someone tells him he's very similar to Julian Barber, a famous painter who disappeared. He sinks in depression and fear and begins frequenting China Town, taking drugs, etc. But one day someone attacks him, rushes and hits a street lamp, becoming paraplegic. He stops having such an unhealthy life, and decides to go to France. He comes back to the USA in 1939 fleeing from the Nazis.
Solomon Barber is Marco's father and Effing's son. He is extremely fat (which contrasts to Marco's period of starvation) and didn't know his father nor that he has a son. He inherits most of the fortune of Effing. He meets Marco after the death of Effing to learn about his father and finds a son. Marco, in the family cyclic pattern, doesn't know that Barber is his father. Barber had a relationship with one of his students, Emily, and never knew she was pregnant. Marco learns the truth when he sees Barber crying in front of Emily's grave.
Marco Stanley Fogg / M.S.
"Marco" refers to Marco Polo, the western explorer who reached China (Later M.S. "discovers" Kitty Wu and Uncle Victor gives him 1492 books, like the year of the discovery of "The New World" by Columbus).
"Stanley" refers to the reporter Henry Morton Stanley, who found Dr. David Livingstone in the heart of darkest Africa. This could be related to the fact that he finds or discovers his father and grandfather.
"Fogg" originally comes from Fogelmann (probably, deriving from German "Vogel" - "bird" and "Mann" - "man"), which was changed to Fog by the immigration department. The second "g" was added later. Marco says about his last name: "A bird flying through the fog, a giant bird flying across the ocean, not stopping until it reached America" (this resembles the American Dream).
"M.S." Uncle Victor tells Marco "M.S." stands for manuscript, a book that is not yet finished (everybody is writing his own life, his own story). "MS" also refers to a disease: the multiple sclerosis. Marco quite appreciates this strangeness in his name.
Uncle Victor - the brother of Marco's mother - is a "spindly, beak-nosed bachelor" of forty-three who earns his living as a clarinetist. Although he lacks ambition, Uncle Victor must have been a good musician because for some time he is a member of the famous Cleveland Orchestra. Like all Foggs, he is characterized by a certain aimlessness in life. He does not settle down, but is constantly on the move. Because of a thoughtless joke, he has to leave the renowned Cleveland Orchestra. Then he plays in smaller combos: the Moonlight Moods and later the Moon Men. In order to earn a sufficient living, he also gives clarinet lessons to beginners. His last job is selling encyclopedias.
Uncle Victor is given to dreams, his mind restlessly shifting from one thing to another. He is interested in baseball and in all kinds of sport. His rich imagination and creativity allow him to invent playful activities for his nephew Marco. Uncle Victor carries out his guardianship for Marco in a responsible way, but he does not exercise adult authority over Marco. He forms a relationship based on sympathy, love and friendship. Marco loves his uncle's easy-going lifestyle, his humor and his generosity. Uncle Victor is also quite open-minded, likes movies and is fairly well-read, with 1492 books.
Thomas Effing / Julian Barber
Thomas Effing, father of Solomon and grandfather of Marco, was born as Julian Barber. He was a famous painter who lived in a house on a cliff. He was married to Elizabeth Wheeler, a young woman who, after the marriage, turned out to be frigid. Julian Barber eventually wanted to travel to the West and as his wife got scared he wouldn't come back, she spent one night with him. He undertook the expedition anyway and lived as a hermit in the desert for a few years. Since he never returned home to his pregnant wife, everybody thought that he was dead. He decided to be 'dead' and changed his name to Thomas Effing.
The name Thomas Effing was chosen by Julian Barber because he favoured the painter Thomas Moran. Effing comes from the word *fucking*. He decided to shorten it to f-ing which becomes Eff-ing. He chose this name because his whole life was "fucked up". He started a new life as Thomas, and was then attacked which resulted in an accident that caused him to become paralyzed. Then he travels to Paris, where he stays until the beginning of the second World War. Next he moves to a big New York apartment with his housemaid 'Mrs Hume' and a Russian man called 'Pavel Shum' whom he met in Paris, but who later died in an accident. Effing was informed that he had a son, an obese history professor, but never contacted him during his lifetime. He takes Marco, his grandson, on as his new assistant. Marco reads books to him and later has to write Effing's obituary.
Kitty is a masculin girl who falls in love with Marco and helps in searching for him during his central park period. This scene is a reference to the novel Around the World in Eighty Days, where the hero, Phileas Fogg, rescues an Indian woman from death.
Marco leaves Kitty when she decides to have an abortion, and does not contact her until his father dies. But Kitty does not want to live with him again.
Symbols and Motifs
The quest for identity
Both Marco and Solomon are raised without having a father. This has a major impact on them:
- Marco completely loses orientation when Uncle Victor dies. He is very upset about not knowing his father. Throughout the novel, Marco tries to find his roots. Shortly after finding his father, he loses him again.
- Solomon writes a book that deals with the topic of a fatherless life, showing his own internal quest for identity.
- "The moon is many things all at once, a touchstone. It’s the moon as myth, as ‘radiant Diana, image of all that is dark within us’; the imagination, love, madness. At the same time, it’s the moon as object, as celestial body, as lifeless stone hovering in the sky. But it’s also the longing for what is not, the unattainable, the human desire for transcendence. And yet it’s history as well, particularly American history. First, there’s Columbus, then there was the discovery of the west, then finally there is outer space: the moon as the last frontier. But Columbus had no idea that he’d discovered America. He thought he had sailed to India, to China. In some sense Moon Palace is the embodiment of that misconception, an attempt to think of America as China. But the moon is also repetition, the cyclical nature of human experience. There are three stories in the book, and each one is finally the same. Each generation repeats the mistakes of the previous generation. So it’s also a critique of the notion of progress."
A more prosaic explanation of the title is that the Moon Palace was a Chinese restaurant (now defunct) in the Morningside Heights neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which was a popular student hangout when Auster was studying at Columbia University.
Similarities to author's life
Some aspects of the main character's life in Moon Palace mirror the life of the author. He was a descendant of an Austrian Jewish family, born on the Third of February 1947 in Newark, New Jersey, which is only 20 miles southwest of New York. He also attended high school there. In his childhood, Auster's father Samuel Auster was often absent. Samuel Auster was a businessman who left the house in the morning before his son was awake and returned home when he was already in bed. Auster always searched for someone to replace his father. Unlike his father his mother gave Auster very much attention. In fact this may also put a different light on the title as the moon is symbolic of the female or the mother.
- Paul Auster and Marco Fogg were both born in 1947.
- Marco's, Solomon's and Paul's father were all absent during their sons' childhoods.
- When Paul's uncle travelled to Europe he stored several boxes of books at the Austers' home. Paul Auster read one book after the other. The same goes for Marco, who read his Uncle Victor's books.
- They both studied at Columbia University, New York.
- Both of them were involved in the student's demonstrations at Columbia University.
- Both Paul and Marco lost a lot of weight after running out of money.
- Effing and Paul went to France (Paris).