Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.

September 11th

In “Twilight of the Superheroes,” the September 11th terrorist attacks highlight Nathaniel and Lucien’s alienation and loss of their self-identity. Nathaniel and Lucien react to the fall of the twin towers in similar ways, although their experiences preceding the event differ considerably. September 11 forces them to look within themselves and question their dreams and desires, and the trauma of the terrorist attack translates into trauma in their personal lives. For Nathaniel, who actually sees the towers fall, 9/11 is a wake-up call to the harsh realities of the world. The experience helps him begin to come to terms with his passivity and complacency. For Lucien, however, 9/11 was a national trauma that mirrored his own personal tragedy—the loss of his beloved wife, Charlie—and he’s better able to understand his own trauma as his fellow New Yorkers struggle with their own losses. In this way, both characters define themselves in reaction to the disaster.


Fear is a powerful force in the lives of every character in “Twilight of the Superheroes.” Fear, for example, has defined Nathaniel’s parents’ lives, first in Europe during World War II and then in the United States, where they live in constant fear of authority. As a result, they worry nonstop about inconsequential things and have instilled some of their paranoia and anxiety in Nathaniel. Nathaniel manages to overcome some of these fears when he moves from his college town to New York, but he grows to fear the prospect of mediocrity and failure. September 11 shakes him and brings this anxiety to the forefront of his thoughts. Lucien, on the other hand, doesn’t fear for his livelihood or his safety but worries for the fate of New York and the world. He has been forced to face his own fear of being alone and wonders what the future will bring. September makes Nathaniel’s and Lucien’s fears more pronounced, and both struggle to make sense of them.