Reader's Den: The Contract With God Trilogy by Will Eisner - Week 4
Thank you for joining us for this month's Reader's Den! Our discussion of Will Eisner's The Contract With God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue is part of NYC Summer and we have many more events still to come.
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Last week, we covered Eisner's 1988 work A Life Force, which managed to combine both the subjective and objective experiences of living in The Bronx during the 1930s. Our final discussion turns to the third and final book in the compilation, Dropsie Avenue, originally published in 1995 by Kitchen Sink Press.
One of the most striking aspects of Dropsie Avenue is its scope. A Contract With God experimented with a sequence of self-contained short stories all taking place in the same fictional neighborhood and A Life Force took this structure one step further with its eleven interlocking tales. However, Dropsie Avenue spans 100 years of the neighborhood's history, tracing its evolution through the lives of the Dutch, English, Irish, Jewish, African American, and Puerto Rican immigrants who call it home.
Much of the book focuses on conflicts between characters of different racial and cultural backgrounds. However, Eisner subtly lampoons this day-to-day friction of city life and the fluidity of urban politics, injecting it with the humor and irony we've found in the previous two books. Early on, Izzy Cash transforms from ragman to wealthy slumlord overnight and at the close of the book many of the characters who were formerly at odds, reunite and reminisce about their shared experiences on Dropsie.
Ultimately, the many changes and calamities of violence, poverty, and even fire cannot destroy Eisner's fictional but realistic Bronx community. As Rowena writes in her final note to her lawyer: "You were right, Abie. Dropsie Avenue as we knew it is gone. Only the memory of how it was for us remains. In the end, buildings are only buildings, but people make a neighborhood."
Some discussion questions:
- Which was your favorite of the three books and why?
- Did you find the structure of Dropsie Avenue easier or harder to follow than the two earlier works?
- Is the ending of the book hopeful or pessimistic?