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“Twilight of the Superheroes”

Deborah Eisenberg

Eisenberg’s Reverse Epiphany

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

September 11 Fiction

Unlike many short stories, “Twilight of the Superheroes” doesn’t end with an epiphany, or moment of realization; rather, it ends with just as much uncertainty and hopelessness that it began with. Because epiphanies have become so common in contemporary American short fiction, many readers expect the status quo to be overturned at the end of every short story, or at least expect the protagonist’s disorganized thoughts to coalesce at some new awareness. Eisenberg, however, rejects this formula as unrealistic, and she strives to write stories that maintain the confusions and uncertainty of modern life. In this way, her “reverse epiphanies” as she calls them, alter the common short story blueprint by remaining convoluted and realistically complex at they end.

“Twilight of the Superheroes” features an excellent example of a “reverse epiphany” because the story itself is about the inaction and uncertainty of its characters. Nathanial and his friends are stuck in one of life’s ruts while Lucien is constantly trapped in his memories of the past. A significant portion of the work is spent following Nathaniel’s stationary thoughts and dwelling on the events of his past that can’t be changed. When the story ends, Nathaniel still hasn’t decided how to move forward, and Lucien hasn’t moved beyond the confines of his memories. Instead, the story ends with one of Eisenberg’s characteristic reverse epiphanies: both characters continue to dwell on the same issues that confuse them. In fact, the entire story takes place in only a matter of minutes, emphasizing Nathaniel’s and Lucien’s mental and emotional turmoil and keeping them stuck in time: at the end of the story, Lucien is still standing in his gallery, and Nathaniel is still reminiscing with his friends on the terrace of Matsumoto’s apartment. Instead of having a revelatory moment of realization, when the lives of either character change, Eisenberg is interested merely in showing us how each character lives and thinks. She documents the status quo, leaving us with a realistic image of life to make better sense of the world.

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