Nathaniel is part of a new generation that faces a bright future with endless possibilities but is simultaneously filled with uncertainty. Although Nathaniel has yet to accomplish anything of significance so far, his life is full of potential. He has come to New York to access the cultured, artistic, and vibrant lifestyle his Uncle Lucien and Aunt Charlie embodied when they visited him as a child. However, his youth and inexperience coupled with the traumatic world events he has witnessed have stunted his personal growth and prevented him from maturing into full adulthood. After witnessing the World Trade Center collapse, he has lost his innocence without gaining an adult perspective on the world. He doesn’t idealize the world but hopes to passively create an authentic space for himself and his friends, as evidenced by the hero of his own comic strip, “Passivityman.” Like Passivityman, Nathaniel is trapped by the paradox of wanting to engage the world around him but also wanting to stay protected from it. Unlike Passivityman, however, Nathaniel actually does attempt to interact with others: he has a job, he has had a relationship with Delphine, and now he may need to find a place to live on his own. This final step will be an important test of Nathaniel’s promise and will offer him the chance to become fully independent.
Spiritually and personally, Lucien is a casualty of the events of 9/11. For Lucien it is now impossible to look even upon Nathaniel and his friends, the younger generation, with anything resembling optimism or hope. He represents a stunted old guard, jaded by world events and personal tragedies to a state most likely beyond repair. Lucien sees his own loss in the trauma of 9/11, and his inability to recover from this loss mirrors the nation’s failure to recover from 9/11. Before his wife died, Lucien was proudly involved in the artistic and creative industries of New York. When he visited Nathaniel’s family in the Midwest with Charlie, he represented success and accomplishment. Since his wife’s death, however, he’s been unable to feel the same joy. Lucian longs for the seeming stability of the world of his childhood—a world symbolized by his schoolteacher Mrs. Mueller, whose words and image haunt him throughout the story. Nevertheless, he understands the futility of these thoughts, realizing that even in those days the stability he felt was merely a fabrication, a curtain that could be pulled back at any moment to reveal a dangerous problematic world. At the end of the story, Lucien’s only comfort is in the unimportance of his, and Nathan’s, time on this planet, a wholly pessimistic and cynical perspective on the world.