From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E.L. Konigsburg
Let's talk about Claudia Kinkaid, the star of the story (or at least she really wants to be). For a twelve-year-old, Claudia really knows how to carry the plot and create a presence. For good or for bad, we're not sure, but let's take a look.
This girl definitely wants to be in control. From the very beginning, it's all about what Claudia wants and what Claudia has planned. She wants to run away, she wants Jamie to come with her, and she wants to go to the Met because it suits her taste.
When Jamie isn't so sure about her choice of locale, she shuts him down, ignoring his tirade: "Let's get off this bus and on the train, and I'll tell you about it" (2.42). Okay, then. She doesn't entertain the idea that she could be wrong about anything, and she's not even threatened by Jamie's protests. After all, she's not scared that he'll usurp her power. She's Claudia Kinkaid. No one messes with her.
Because she's in control, she's also the planner. She decides where they hide, determines that they're going to solve the mystery of the angel, and even comes up with the crazy idea to go looking for Mrs. Frankweiler at the end. Hey, she's Type A, cut her some slack.
Don't get us wrong, Claudia isn't a total tyrant. As the leader, she knows it's important to let Jamie feel like he has some power, and she wisely lets him take care of the cash:
Claudia appointed him treasurer; he would not only hold all the money, he would keep track of it and pass judgment on all expenditures. Then Jamie began to feel that the Metropolitan offered several advantages and would provide adventure enough. (2.59)
Claudia may be a ruler, but she's a kind and fair one. She wants to make sure that Jamie's having fun, too. By giving him control of the purse, she's letting him know that even though she's calling the shots, he's still an important part of the team.
Standing Out in the Crowd
Poor Claudia. All she wants is to be recognized as different. This seems to be her motivation for skipping town, even though she's not sure how it's going to play out. As the narrator puts it, "She was bored with simply being straight-A's Claudia Kinkaid" (1.4).
Though we don't think there's anything wrong with getting straight-A's all the time, Claudia clearly thirsts for something more. She wants adventure and fame in the big city. She wants to seek her fortunes—even if that means that she'll have to give up hot fudge sundaes for a while.
When Claudia sees the angel statue, she wants to hug it. Yeah, we think that's a little weird, too. But it's not because she likes touching marble. It's just that she realizes that a whole new world of possibility and different-ness is now open to her. She can be the beautiful heroine in the movie who, through wit and sheer genius, solves a mystery that everyone's dying to know. She can be the Sherlock Holmes of her generation—with Jamie as her faithful Watson.
The Seeker of Secrets
When the museum officials reveal that they already know the "secret" of the stonemason's mark, Claudia is beyond upset. She is, in fact, totally devastated. Jamie doesn't get her theatrics at first, but she tries to explain to him why finding out the secret is so important to her:
"I mean the difference is not enough. Like being born with perfect pitch, or being born very ordinary and then winning the Congressional Medal of Honor or getting an Academy Award. Those are differences that will last a lifetime. Finding out about Angel will be that kind of difference."
"I think you're different already, Claude." (6.81)
Claudia wants to be intrinsically different; she wants to have something special that she can keep inside of her, like, say, the secret of who made the angel statue. If she knew that juicy tidbit that everyone was looking for, she'd feel as though she had something special over everyone else.
When she finally does discover the secret, it's as though Claudia is transformed:
Claudia said nothing and nothing and nothing. She continued clutching the drawing to her chest and rocking it back and forth. She appeared to be in a trance. […] She looked up at us and smiled. (9.201)
In the end, Claudia does get to return to Greenwich a different little lady. She's been through a journey that no one else in her family or class could imagine (who expects a twelve-year-old to solve such a mystery?) and knows that she is capable of great, great things.
Claudia may have been confident before, but we're guessing that she goes back to Greenwich with a slightly more inflated head. We can imagine her getting into arguments with people and then throwing out, "Oh yeah? Well did you ever solve the mystery of a piece of art worth millions of dollars? I don't think so."
And just for that kind of comeback, that whole trip was worth it.Timeline