The Mezzanine: A Novel Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 34 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Mezzanine.
This section contains 533 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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The Mezzanine: A Novel Summary & Study Guide Description

The Mezzanine: A Novel Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Mezzanine: A Novel by Nicholson Baker.

The Mezzanine: A Novel is a stream-of-consciousness novel which covers the thoughts of Howie, a 1980s mid-level office worker, during his one hour lunch break. Howie works at the mezzanine, one of the mid-level floors in his office building, and his job is unclear. We never learn the author's full name, his real job, anything much about his family or life. Instead, Howie serially recounts his thoughts, one after another, as they come to him.

Howie's thoughts jump around events in his life, but are all anchored around the events that transpire during his lunch hour, from his ride up the escalator, to his trip to the men's room, his brief conversation with an office secretary, the snapping of his left shoelace, going to the CVS down the street to buy new shoelaces, and reading Marcus Aurelius's Meditations after eating a hotdog, a cookie and drinking some milk for lunch. Perhaps the most important two events are the escalator ride, where the reader both meets Howie and leaves him in the book. The escalator forms bookends around all the thoughts of the book and one might see the book as one entire extended thought that is generated by the escalator.

It is difficult to say what the point of The Mezzanine is. It seems to have several aims: first, one subtle claim in the book is that life is really full of trivialities, tangential thoughts, eddies within common thoughts, new thoughts and so on that do not neatly fit into the pattern of an ordinary description of a life event in the news or a novel. Even great novels misrepresent reality by leaving out the wholly random and mundane mental events that occupy most of our internal mental lives. The author aims to represent our chaotic mental lives by taking brief thoughts, slowing down to examine them and then expanding them into a book. The book is also about the relationship between the meaningless and the meaningful or between the pointless and the profound. The book clearly illustrates that even our silliest thoughts are embedded within a context of thought, experience and conceptual structure that is deeply influenced by one's life events and that the briefest examination of the context of one's thoughts would reveal this.

Finally, in an important sense, The Mezzanine is a coming-of-age story, but in one of the most unusual ways the reader may encounter in a novel. Howie is only in his mid-twenties in the book and has an experience described in the book where he believes he enters adulthood; it occurs when he notices that his life has become straightforwardly mundane. What disturbs him is that the vast majority of his new thoughts still derived from his childhood, yet his childhood insights were sentimental, nostalgic and full or error. To grow up, he must make a concerted effort not only to "de-sentimentalize" his childhood memories but to focus on having detailed, new thoughts in order to ensure that one day (when he is forty, he believes) he will have a "new Majority" of new adult thoughts that exceed the number of his new childhood thoughts. On this day, Howie will be a man.

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This section contains 533 words
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