Illustrating with Vignettes

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Neil Gaiman employs vignettes quite successfully within American Gods. His interludes, particularly those of a historical digression, provide context for the development of various gods in America, as well as their difficulty in assimilating and flourishing. Common throughout all four historical digressions are themes of sacrifice and abandonment.

The first vignette, A.D. 813, illustrates the establishment of gods in the new world. Norsemen sail to North America, calling on the All-Father to keep them safe. Once established, their bard sings of Odin around the campfire. The Norsemen then meet a native, a “scraeling… dressed in furs” with “small bones braided into his long hair” (68). They entertain and feed him before sacrificing
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She tells stories of “knockers and blue-caps” to her offspring, and “they believed because she believed” (97). However, when she tries to teach her grandchildren about their heritage, they wish instead for stories of American mythic figures, such as “Jack the Giant-killer, or Jack and his Cat and the King” (100). In the end, a piskie comes for Essie. Appropriately, she leaves with the creature she brought to a “land with no time for magic and no place for piskies and such folk” (101). Essie’s beliefs bring those folk characters far from their home. Her offerings to them, fruits of the earth, tie them to the land. However, new mythic figures established out of a growing culture, misplace them in the hearts of children. When the abandonment by future generations affects their offerings, they struggle and begin to die out.

The longest vignette, dated 1778, appears halfway through the main text. It describes the arrival of a religion, its continuance, and misuse. African religion and folklore arrives to North America on slaving ships, in the minds and hearts of twins Wututu and Agasu. Through beatings, rape, separations, revolts, trades, and death, they manage to keep their faith. They faithfully sing to their gods, and worship them through dance.