Twilight of the Superheroes | Study Guide

Deborah Eisenberg

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Twilight of the Superheroes | Character Analysis



Raised in the Midwest by Jewish immigrant parents, Nathaniel from "Twilight of the Superheroes" has no direction or purpose in life. An underachiever by nature, he knows he can do better, but he's also petrified about failing. Moving to New York City at the beginning of the 21st century was a giant leap in the right direction, but he took two steps back after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. Even Passivityman, Nathaniel's comic book alter ego, has lost his will to do anything. When presented with the opportunity to make changes for the better, Nathaniel instead imagines a fantasy life with Delphine, a worldly, wealthy woman who doesn't return his romantic feelings.


Lucien is the owner of a successful art gallery in "Twilight of the Superheroes." Decades older than his nephew, Lucien lost his wife, Charlie, to an unnamed illness in the 1990s. He is struggling to move on without her, going through the motions of a happy and fulfilled life while secretly conversing with her memory. Lucien is tied to Charlie not just through memories, but also through family. He looks out for Nathaniel, the son of Charlie's sister, because he knows it's what Charlie would want him to do.


Otto is a 50- or 60-something lawyer in "Some Other, Better Otto." He's extremely successful and earns most of the household income for himself and his long-term partner William, which doesn't bother him in the least. Otto has wild mood swings—he is gruff and crabby one moment, then calm and gentle the next. He loves William dearly yet often finds himself annoyed by his partner's perpetual optimism, which is a stark contrast to his own stubborn pessimism. Otto is the eldest of four siblings, with whom he has little interest in seeing following their mother's death. He has a soft spot for Sharon, the youngest, and serves as her de facto caretaker when her unnamed mental illness flares up. Despite his prickly exterior, Otto is a good man. He's just not always the nicest one.


There's not a glamorous or sexual bone in American Midwest-born Kate's body. As she's presented in "Like It or Not," she was raised to be a good wife and mother, and that's exactly what she was until her husband left her for their electrician. Divorce left Kate ruing the existence of sexual desire and completely uninterested in her own sexual appeal. The mere mention of sex makes her nervous—she shies away from anything sexual in nature, be it conversational innuendo or her own flirtatious dress. Kate is most comfortable in her prescribed roles of mother and high school teacher, which makes her vacation to Italy such an anomaly.


Kristina is a 20-year-old who left the projects of New York City to find a better, more beautiful life. In "Window" she ends up in a small northeastern town, which is where she meets Eli. Kristina has never had much ambition, but as soon as she meets Eli, all she can think about is being with him. His life seems magical and mysterious and far better than the drudgery she's living through now. She's so desperate to escape her own life she doesn't ask him any questions about his background before he whisks her away to his cabin in the woods. She remains enamored with him and his lifestyle even though he comes with major inconveniences. Kristina is willing to do anything to make Eli happy, at least until he starts beating her. Though she's strong enough to leave him before he can do it more than once, she isn't strong enough to forget how happy she was when she was with him.


Lulu is in her late 20s. Raised and educated in New York City, she moved to the West Coast following graduation from art school. She lives with her partner, Jeff, and works at a vintage clothing store. Lulu and her two brothers were mostly raised by their grandmother, Nana, who once accused Lulu of being "afraid of reality." She wasn't wrong. Lulu never looks beyond her own little bubble of concern even when larger issues like war and death are right in front of her face. In "Revenge of the Dinosaurs" Lulu is more interested in her increasingly disturbed partner and fighting with her brother than her ailing grandmother.

Oliver's mother

The first-person narrator of "The Flaw in the Design" never divulges her first (or last) name. A married mother of a college-aged son, she is most likely a homemaker, as she does not have a job to go to during the day. Her self-appointed role in the family is to make life easier for her husband, John, and her son, Oliver. Forgetting to do little things, like get coffee for the next morning, makes her feel like a failure. She is the glue that holds her fractious family together, mediating John and Oliver's frequent fights and trying to project an overall image of happiness. However, when the story begins she has just slept with a man who is not her husband.

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