Betrayal is the harsh truth. Betrayal hurts people and leaves scars of pain and sadness. But looking deeper, once someone is betrayed, their true loyalties and feelings come out. It may be harsh, but the truth is not always pretty. It is said that betrayal comes in multiple forms, but it always has the same ending effect. In Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods, multiple characters commit acts of betrayal. There is a lot of blind trust between characters, but it ultimately gets shattered. Shadow is one of the few characters who stays loyal, unlike the others. Betrayal is the result of selfishness, but it arises in people based on different motivations.
The first time Shadow feels betrayed is when he learns how Laura died. Unlike other common motivation factors (money, power, etc.), Laura betrayed Shadow because of love. Sounds ironic, right? Laura needed attention and love and Shadow was not giving her that. When she said “You’re not dead. But I’m not sure that you’re alive either” (Gaiman, 467), she was referring to Shadow’s state of mind. When she was with him, sometimes she felt like he did not even know she was there. Therefore, she betrayed him and cheated on him with Robbie. “Infidelity is a serious relationship issue, as it not only reflects instability within the primary relationship, but also may have intense negative consequences for both individuals in the dyad” (Sharpe, 2013). Because Laura cheated, readers could see her selfishness and the effects it had on Shadow. Shadow is haunted by Laura’s infidelity throughout the book and maybe he wouldn’t have taken Wednesday’s job offer, if she were still alive. Her act of betrayal, because of her need for love, started a butterfly effect of other betrayal incidents on Shadow.
Most of the betrayal in American Gods happens towards the end of the book. Hinzelmann commits his betrayal for multiple reasons, but mostly to “protect” his town. Hinzelman betrayed Wednesday by trying to get Shadow to leave Lakeside, when Wednesday asked him for the opposite. Hinzelmann originally denies betraying Wednesday, but then starts to explain his motivations: “This is a good town. You could’ve attracted too much attention here. Not good for the town” (Gaiman 713). He says he cares for the town, but the only reason he really cares about the town is because he kills children there as sacrifices to himself. So if he didn’t have a good relationship with the town and the people in it, they would suspect him more about the recent missing children. “Deceivers can also attempt to imply that the interpersonal relation between themselves and their victims is justifiable” (Mitchell, 1996). Hinzelmann is doing exactly this. He is trying to say his actions were okay by justifying his relationship with the town. Hinzelmann said “I gave them prosperity…Nothing happens here that I don’t want to happen”(Gaiman 714). Just because he watches over the town, however, does mean he has the right to kill the children and sacrifice them to himself. He betrayed his town and Wednesday for fear of getting caught earlier on. His motivation behind betraying Wednesday was to protect his town, which ultimately was to protect himself.
Arguably, the biggest act of betrayal was by Wednesday. Wednesday betrays Shadow and all the other gods out of pure selfish needs for power. Throughout the whole book, Shadow has been with Wednesday, and then in the end we find out Wednesday had just been using him. Dr. Gottman says that in order to build trust, you must “connect with someone rather than choosing to think only about what you want” (Gottman, 2011). Wednesday was always thinking about himself, so Shadow should’ve never trusted him in the first place. Wednesday says to Shadow, “I feed on death that is dedicated to me” (Gaiman, 675), and readers understand his crave for power now. Wednesday’s crave and selfishness is so large that he used Shadow as a distraction through everything, just to start a war. This war would’ve fed him an unimaginable amount of power, but luckily Shadow was able to stop the war. “Constant manipulation and defence…turn us cold to the warmth of genuine intimacy” (Hoffman, 1997). Shadow has been constantly manipulated and betrayed that he is no longer blind to it. He is starting to pull everything together himself. He figures out Loki has also been working with Wednesday and is feeding off chaos. “You two weren’t betraying either side. You were betraying both sides” (Gaiman, 674). Loki did not stay loyal to his gods and Wednesday did not stay loyal to the old gods. They worked together to create a war, both to feed off of it for power because of their selfishness.
Shadow is the only character to who stays loyal through the book. In the beginning of the book, he agrees to work for Wednesday, not ask questions, and hold his vigil if he ever dies (Gaiman 47). Shadow does everything he asks of him. Even as the story becomes more chaotic and Shadow is overwhelmed with the war brewing, he still holds Wednesday’s vigil. He could’ve easily said ‘Wednesday’s dead now, so it doesn’t matter if I hold his vigil or not’, but he did not say that. He stayed loyal and did not betray Wednesday. He also stayed loyal to his debt with Czernobog. He lost in a game of chess and he bet one hit to the head with his hammer. Shadow could have not come back, but instead he showed up and said “You came through with your part of it. This is my part” (Gaiman, 733). Shadow did no commit any acts of betrayal because he was not selfish. He did not desire power, money, or greed. According to Julie Fitness at Macquarie University, after betrayal, you can stay angry, deny your anger, or forgive. Forgiving is the hardest to do and if you stay angry, that will be damaging to your health (Fitness, 2001). Shadow just wanted to be done with all the chaos and move on with his life. He did not stay angry or even fully forgive. He just simply, moved on. Shadow’s moral character stayed true to the loyal person he was.
American Gods was filled with deceit and betrayal. Gaiman incorporated these themes to add suspense and depth to the story. After someone is betrayed, they discover the truth. Learning the truth hurts sometimes though. Throughout the book there were test of loyalties, sacrifices, and fighting. All of these things could be tied back to someone’s individual needs and wants. Each character in American Gods had their own motives for why they betrayed people, but all the characters acted out of selfishness.
Fitness, Julie. “Betrayal, Rejection, Revenge, and Forgiveness: An Interpersonal Script Approach”. Macquarie University, 2001, http://markbeaird.org/wmlib/pdf/book_resources_ rbt/betrayal_rejection_revenge_and_forgiveness.pdf
Gaiman, Neil. American Gods. Imprint of HarperCollins, 2011.
Gottman, John. “John Gottman on Trust and Betrayal”. University of California Berkley, 29 Oct. 2011, http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/john_gottman_on_trust_and_betrayal/
Hoffman, Todd. “When passion and reason collide: treasons and loyalties.” Queen’s Quarterly, vol. 104, no. 1, 1997, pp. 29-45. Academic OneFile, ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcc_chandler&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA30110898&it=r. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017.
Mitchell, Robert W. “The psychology of human deception.” Social Research, vol. 63, no. 3, 1996, p. 819+. Academic OneFile, ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcc_chandler&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA18888994&it=r. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017.
Sharpe, Desiree I., et al. “Effect of cheating experience on attitudes toward infidelity.” Sexuality and Culture, vol. 17, no. 4, 2013, p. 643+. Academic OneFile, ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ez1.maricopa.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcc_chandler&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA347971715&asid=261620b88dad1fe13f52406f9b4ea722. Accessed 14 Apr. 2017.