So one piece of feedback I keep reading about Shadow is that he's dumb. His character seems more reactionary, and just kind of stupid. He doesn't seem to have a lot of depth of personality or thought, and little agency in his own life. Shadow, it is said, is a character who has things happen to him, not a character that actually does anything.
Personally, I think the people who have come to this conclusion has missed the point. First, let's examine the idea that Shadow is just a big, dumb guy. Shadow isn't stupid, he's merely easy-going and introverted. In a flashback we see that a teenage Shadow is reading Gravity's Rainbow, a heavy piece of literature. When he talks about his childhood, Shadow mentions that he was shy and bookish. He also notes that he was picked on a lot for being puny, until he hit puberty and found himself bigger than his bullies--and after that point everyone just assumed he was a big dumb guy (He fell in Laura specifically because she was the first person who saw him as an individual and not some grunt good for moving a couch). As an introvert who doesn't like to be in the spotlight, this suited him just fine. We don't actually see any example of Shadow being stupid, just quiet and reserved.
On the topic of Shadow having little personality or agency, I think that was intentional on Gaiman's part for two reasons: first, Shadow is more of a canvas on which to tell a story rather than a character in and of itself, but more importantly: Shadow is suffering from a deep, severe depression. Think about it; he's just spent three years in jail, only to find out that not only did his wife die in a horrific accident, but that she was cheating on him with his best friend. Of course he seems sluggish and nonreactive--he's freakin' depressed! At the funeral home of Ibis and Jackal, he even contemplates suicide, but Bast stops him. Several times Shadow wonders what it would be like to just have it all end. His passiveness in the face of all the crazy stuff happening around him is a reflection of his depression, not a lack of personality.
What's worse, it's likely that he has been depressed his whole life (Dysthymia), but that recent events just made it worse ("double depression"). Laura mentions that Shadow never felt "alive", that he just seemed to take up space and merely exist . When Shadow dies on Yggdrasil, he is given the option of what afterlife to have, and he choices to basically cease to exist--and is happy about it. This all points to a man who suffered from a lifetime of functional/low level depression, and who enters into a deeper depression after his wife dies.
Superficially, it seems that Gaiman created a dull character, but in reality I think Gaiman created an accurate portrayal of a man suffering from long-term depression. Plus, his "blankness" makes a very good conduit for the story. The real gem in American Gods isn't Shadow himself, but the vibrant ideas about gods and belief that Gaiman brings to life. If Shadow had a stronger personality, we would be consistently caught in how crazy everything was, rather than able to savor the world Gaiman created. Shadow's roll-with-the-punches attitude let us explore this world, while still having a main character to anchor us to the story.
I agree and this has bothered me as well.
I think a lot of the problem is that people in the book expect him to be "dumb" or "big and dumb" but he is not. There is every bit of evidence that his is a smart guy. Mr Nancy confirms this. I never understood why the people in the book got the wrong impression of Shadow.
I also love this book and what's more I love other books like this. CP
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