Close Reading of Third Class Superhero by Charles Yu

“”No. You wouldn’t. Not you.”
”Anna. Listen. ” My tone quiets her. I sound like a dif­ferent person, admitting what I’ve done. I’m already a bad guy and she can hear it. “These guys are bush league. Any two of you could have taken all of them down on a given day. What happened here? Why were they so fast today? Because they, knew. Because you were ambushed. By me. I ambushed you.”
She is silent for a long time. “Why?” she finally asks, but she is twice as smart as I am and knows the answer bet­ter than I ever will. The rescue copter is getting close. I have to leave or go to jail. I climb up the stairs and into the jet. As I am flying away, I expect to see her shooting me down, but she just waves a sad, small wave.”
The use of several I’s in this excerpt marks the inner change of Nathan and his realization of how he has basically become a bad guy, because to him being a good guy means to have extraordinary powers that help save the world, rather than being a human that does little things to help the people around him. His short sentences towards Anna and his descriptions of the circumstance note the bluntness of his situation and his acceptance of what he has done to the superheros. Even though Anna asks Nathan “Why?”, it is obvious that she knows why he did what he did because she did not shoot him while he was escaping. She is one of the few people in the story that understands the reality of their world, and how people like the main character will do bad things to be what society deems is a good person. In Nathan’s world, all good people are the superheros, not the regular humans that do little things for the people around them, which is what influences him to go to Johnnie Blade to get the super power he wants. However, Anna sees the good in people, hence her disbelief of Nathan ambushing the team , which can be proved by her short statements as well and her inability to say anything longer,  and she refuses to shoot Nathan even after he killed Zero C and badly injured Golden Boy, which actually defines her as a good person morally , not because she is a superhero. The imagery of Nathan flying away and looking down at Anna while she “waves a sad small wave” helps the reader understand the symbolism of how he is putting himself farther and farther away from his chances of ever being a good guy and setting things right. Anna’s  purpose in this novel is to show what a true good person is like and she is used to contrast that to what society deems is a good guy. Her other purpose in the book is to act as Nathan’s foil since he aspires to be a good guy, but he lacks the qualities that Anna has that makes her a good person, such as kindness, sympathy, forgivingness, and amicability.
Do you guys think the author intended to make Nathan seem like a regular human or more like a bad guy? Who do you think he resembles more of?

6 thoughts on “Close Reading of Third Class Superhero by Charles Yu

  1. I think the author intended to make Nathan appear to be a human with human flaws. Nathan’s insecurities regarding his image of a “good guy” and superhero are something that the audience can relate to. The statement you made “because to him being a good guy means to have extraordinary powers that help save the world rather than being a human that does little things to help the people around him.” represents his insecurities and causes him to go Johnnie Blade to get the superpower he wants. His feeling of “not being good enough” is something that we, as readers, have experienced in our lives. I also agree that Anna does serve as a foil in the story since she possesses the qualities that Nathan desires to have to be considered a “good guy”. Likewise, in the audience’s society, there is always that one person we aspire to become and who serve as role models to us.

    Nicole Schmalz


  2. I think a very interesting factor in this story is Nathan’s age. He’s almost 40, and a burnout. Batman, Superman, Iron Man, these guys start their vigilante careers in their late 20s or 30s. Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel- Teen hero prodigies. While this is a result of attempting to appeal to comic book readership, we as a society have an emphasis on success in youth. If you haven’t figured your life out by the time your 30, you don’t seem like a success. You don’t feel like one. And some people cheat, do bad things, to jump ahead. Credit card fraud, betrayal, bad things. Everyone wants to grow up thinking they are a good person, but you reach a point where idealism can no longer support you. And then you face reality.


  3. I think the author intended Nathan to be very relatable to readers. The constant feeling of never being good enough, while everyone around you is doing what you aspire to do, is something almost everyone can relate to. I think the most striking scene from the story was when Nathan brought Henry to the hospital. Even though he saved his friend, he still felt like he didn’t do something heroic like he was still mediocre while in reality he saved someone’s life. Nathan still felt as though he needed super powers to be a hero.


  4. I also agree that this passage marks the point where Nathan fully realizes and possibly accepts that he has changed. I first noticed this when he said “I sound like a different person.” In general, when people change or become different, they start to talk different, say things differently, etc. Usually they don’t even realize it, but Nathan hears it in his voice. Therefore, the fact that Nathan is realizing that he sounds different shows that he is considering himself a bad guy now. According to himself, he is no longer a good guy because like you said, he is unable to use powers to save the world.


  5. Yu moves away from conventional superhero storytelling, by making his hero seem to have a more believable life. This is often shown in his narration of the struggles he is facing, like money troubles and leading a normal life. This alone is not unique to superhero stories, but Yu’s emphasis on his protagonists struggles is. It is all very nice to read about extraordinary people with extraordinary powers, however far more interesting to read about average people with extraordinary powers.


  6. I believe the author intended to make Nathan human-like in order to make it easier for readers to relate to him. Nathan has a sense of remorse during this passage and he seems to be nervous that Anna thinks of him as a “bad guy”. I found the whole concept of the way Nathan thinks that superheroes are good and everyone else is bad to be interesting. It plays into this idea that people often take advantage of the small acts of kindness in day-to-day actions, and only reward and take notice to larger or more publicized acts of kindness.


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