City of Thieves Themes, Motifs, Symbols

David Benioff

City of Thieves

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City of Thieves Themes, Motifs, Symbols

One of the central themes is male socialization and the development of boy to man. Lev frequently expresses his desire to conform to traditional male social norms, particularly the culture of the warrior-hero, which has been exacerbated by the presence of war and the threat of attack. Lev tells us that his desire to conform to warrior-hero culture has altered his relationship with his mother, causing him to assert himself and splinter the family unit:

The night before left I fought with my mother, the only fight we’d ever had – or, more precisely, the only time I ever fought back. She wanted me to go with them … But I wasn’t leaving Piter. I was a man. I would defend my city, I would be a Nevsky for the twentieth century. (Chapter 1, pp.11-12)

Lev’s domestic role in the family unit has therefore been overthrown by his need to take on a new role of man/hero and to serve his people on a grand scale: “I was seventeen, flooded with a belief in my own heroic destiny” (Chapter 1, p.13). He wishes to be a member of society, rather than just a member of a family, and he regards his rebellion against his mother as his first step to manhood.

However, Lev’s over-enthusiastic desire to be a hero is founded on an inferiority complex, and he frequently measures himself against Kolya, who he perceives as truly confident and heroic. Lev struggles with feelings of sexual jealousy and inferiority, and he is overcome with fear when he is overpowered by the authorities, for example, when he is arrested for looting at the beginning of the novel. Moments such as this remind readers that he is still just a teenage boy struggling to become a man in terrifying circumstances.

Lev continually analyzes the nature of fear, and he is extremely hard on himself; he has created an idealistic heroic image in his mind and torments himself whenever he thinks he has failed to live up to his own expectations by acting in a cowardly way. Chapter 15, when Lev and Kolya…

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