American Gods Summary

Neil Gaiman

American Gods

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American Gods Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

American Gods is a fantasy narrative about a man named Shadow. When the story begins, Shadow has been in prison for three years. Though he is scheduled to serve six years, he is going to be released early. Shadow has a feeling that something ominous is about to happen, a feeling that is highlighted by a fellow inmate telling him that a storm is coming and he needs to be ready. Shadow’s fears seem to be realized when he is summoned by the warden a few days before being released. He wonders if he will be made to finish out his sentence. Instead, he is released early. As it turns out, his wife, Laura, has been killed in a car accident. He is being let out early to attend her memorial service.

Once Shadow leaves prison, mysterious events begin plaguing him. He takes a plane to Eagle Point, Indiana, and ends up sitting in first class next to a man named Mr. Wednesday. Mr. Wednesday not only offers Shadow a job, which he already has, but seems to know a lot more about Shadow than a stranger should, including his wife’s death. Shadow becomes upset and gets off the plane, noting that he is not being followed by the guy. He rents a car and begins driving toward home. He makes a pit stop and, when he goes to the restroom, Mr. Wednesday is standing next to him. Shadow has no idea how the man got off the plane or caught up to him. Mr. Wednesday offers him the job again and, after Shadow completes a test where he fights with Mr. Wednesday’s associate, a man named Mad Sweeney who claims to be a leprechaun, Shadow accepts the job.

Shadow wakes up the next day and finds a gold coin in his pocket from Mad Sweeney. He sees Mr. Wednesday hustle a gas station attendant out of money and then is dropped off to his wife’s memorial service. While there, he learns from his wife’s friend Audrey that his wife and his friend, Robbie, were having an affair. They died because they were making love while driving. At the gravesite, Shadow tosses the gold coin into Laura’s grave, then walks to the hotel where he and Mr. Wednesday are staying. After being abducted by a “fat kid” who seems just as mysterious as Mr. Wednesday, and who tells Shadow to give Mr. Wednesday a warning, Shadow makes it to the motel and goes to sleep. He wakes up in the night, however, to find Laura in his room. Though she is still dead, she has been brought back to life, presumably with the gold coin, and tells Shadow she will protect him from the dangerous things fast approaching him.

Strange events continue to happen for Shadow as he accompanies Mr. Wednesday on affairs. Shadow is given another coin from a young woman in an apparent dream. The young woman’s relative, Czernobog, makes a bet with Shadow and agrees to help Shadow and Mr. Wednesday if he can kill Shadow in the end, to which Shadow agrees. Mr. Wednesday puts a meeting together at the House on the Rock, where both Czernobog and a man named Mr. Nancy attend.

The narrative is interspersed with tales of immigrants and old gods. Additionally, Shadow sees things through dreams and everyday deduction that help him to understand that Mr. Wednesday, Czernobog and Mr. Nancy, as well as the strange girl who gave him a coin, are in fact gods who came to America when the people who believed in them immigrated to America. The reader finds that, as has been hinted earlier on, Mr. Wednesday is the Norse god Odin. He pleads with the other gods he has assembled, telling them that they need to join forces as the new gods dislike them and want them to disappear forever. The new gods, like the “fat kid” who abducted Shadow, are things people worship now like drugs, internet and the media.

Shadow then goes to Lakeside, where he will be stationed while working for Mr. Wednesday. He meets a trickster named Hinzelmann, who tells Shadow about a raffle he puts on in town where people guess which day an old car will break through the lake ice. When Shadow next returns to Lakeside, he learns from Chad Mulligan, a policeman, that a girl is missing.

Due to working for Mr. Wednesday, Shadow is on the road quite often. Because of this, he is eventually arrested by Mulligan for parole violation. Czernobog and Mr. Nancy are able to obtain Shadow’s release, but while in prison, the new gods manipulate the television so that Mr. Wednesday is shot. After picking up Shadow, the three men retrieve Mr. Wednesday’s body. Shadow also happens to see his old cellmate, Low Key Lyesmith, and finds that he is an accomplice of the new gods who happens to be the Norse god Loki.

Shadow then performs a vigil for Mr. Wednesday. He is tied to the world tree for nine days, but dies on the third day. Meanwhile, the gods all arrive at Rock City and fight. In the melee, Laura stabs Mr. World with a stick from the world tree. When Shadow arrives at the battle, Mr. Wednesday finally admits that he and Loki, who is Mr. World (Low Key Lyesmith), rigged the entire battle simply to feed off of the other gods’ energy.

Shadow then confronts the other gods and tells them that they have been duped by Loki and Mr. Wednesday. The gods all leave, and Shadow takes the gold coin from Laura’s body. Shadow returns to Lakeside, where he finds the girl who has been missing in the lake. When Shadow then confronts Hinzelmann, who is revealed to be a creature that sacrifices children for the town’s prosperity, Mulligan enters and shoots Hinzelmann.

One of the main themes in Gaiman’s surreal fantasy narrative is belief. The old gods came to America because of people’s belief in them. This belief allows the old gods to stay alive. The narrative shows that once gods are no longer believed in, they are forgotten, some even lost to history altogether. The narrative also shows how dangerous belief can be, as many gods have a dualistic nature. They can be as evil as they are benevolent, depending on their whims. The narrative points to the importance of history and to remembering one’s roots, as well as cautioning what one believes and what people, as a whole and individually, choose to forget.