Twilight of the Superheroes | Study Guide

Deborah Eisenberg

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Twilight of the Superheroes | Motifs


September 11, 2001

Most, if not all, the stories in Twilight of the Superheroes take place in the years after September 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes and crashed them into locations in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. More than 3,000 people died, making it the deadliest terror attack in American history.

The characters and narrators in the six stories that make up Twilight of the Superheroes are acutely aware of what happened on that September day, yet none of them ever mention it by name. The narrator in "Twilight of the Superheroes" refers to September 11 as "that shining, calm, perfectly blue September morning." Other narrators and characters allude to it in more abstract ways. Roger, Kristina's date in "Window," left New York City after his place of employment suddenly closed, which was most likely a result of the ongoing economic depression that only deepened after 9/11. In "Revenge of the Dinosaurs" Lulu watches a newscast showing protesters marching and buildings exploding, which hints at the international impact of the United States' newly minted War on Terror. The narrator's son in "The Flaw in Design" is terrified of some unnamed "marauder" coming to kill everyone, while the narrator herself is continually drawn back into memories of living in countries where Americans weren't exactly welcome. Though not explicitly described, the events of September 11 weigh heavily on many of Deborah Eisenberg's characters.

The memories of 9/11 and the resulting rift in global relations dramatically impact the thoughts, feelings, and relationships of Eisenberg's characters. The youngest, most notably Melinda from "Revenge of the Dinosaurs" and Oliver from "The Flaw in the Design," are outwardly terrified of prospective attacks on American soil. Their panic is met with disinterest and derision, which results in feelings of isolation and loneliness. Older characters deal with September 11 in a different way. Otto from "Some Other, Better Otto," Kate from "Like It or Not," and Nathan from "Twilight of the Superheroes" each find themselves in existential crises that lead to feelings of inadequacy and regrets about the lives they should have lived. They constantly review the choices they've made and can't help wondering if they would have been better off taking different paths.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the characters who do everything in their power to avoid thinking about the state of the world. Lulu from "Revenge of the Dinosaurs" immediately thinks of something else every time images on TV remind her about the War on Terror. The unnamed female narrator of "The Flaw in the Design" thinks not about the bombings she saw abroad, but of the beautiful hotel with the charming waiters in which she was dining during the bombing. Focusing on trivial matters helps them avoid the frightening reality of the world beyond their doorsteps.


Curtains appear twice in Twilight of the Superheroes. The first instance is in the collection's first story, "Twilight of the Superheroes." The third-person narrator, speaking from Lucien's point of view, uses the metaphor of a blue curtain to describe the "before" and "after" of September 11, 2001. Before September 11 the world seemed happy and peaceful. On September 11 two airplanes tore not only through the World Trade Center but through a figurative sky-colored curtain, "exposing the dark world that lay right behind it, the populations exploited, inflamed with hatred." The "curtain" is pulled back and Lucien sees death and destruction everywhere. This metaphorical curtain represents the privilege and relative wealth that allow Americans to ignore what is going on in the rest of the world and how the world feels about Americans. When it is pulled back, one can see the world for what it really is.

The other curtain in Twilight of the Superheroes is in the last story, "The Flaw in the Design." The unnamed first-person narrator remembers dining overseas in a luxurious hotel when a bomb exploded. Through the windows the narrator could see everyone outside running to safety. Then, whoosh, the waitstaff closed the long white drapes, blocking the view outside. That's where the narrator's story ends. She can't see anything beyond the restaurant, so she doesn't think about it. As in "Twilight of the Superheroes," the closed curtain represents one's denial of what is happening in the larger world.

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