From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E.L. Konigsburg
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
On any ordinary Wednesday over 26,000 people come. They spread out over the twenty acres of floor space; they roam from room to room to room […] (3.21)
Is there any place described in the book as grandly and importantly as the Met? As a historical, beautiful institution, the Met becomes the fortress where "Lady Claudia" and "Sir James" hide out during their adventures. (For more details on the Met's history, check out the "Setting" section.)
Inside the long hallways and grand exhibits of the Met, Claudia and Jamie find a home. Of course, it's not the most typical place to call home: there's furniture that people have died in, and hundreds of different people cycle through every day. There's even actual dead people living… well, staying there with them in the form of mummies. Creepy, right?
Despite all this, Claudia and Jamie come to see the museum as home base. They always return to it when they leave for the day, and they find comfort in the schedule they have there. They hide at the same time every morning, sleep in the same place every night, and even have a "school schedule" in which they follow different tour groups and learn things.
On the first day, when they're still getting the hang of this whole running away thing, Claudia and Jamie find it uncomfortable that they haven't adhered to their normal routine:
"You know, Claude," he whispered, "I didn't brush my teeth."
[…] "Tomorrow," Claudia reassured him, "we'll be even better organized." (3.63-64)
And better organized they are. In no time, they're going to school groups, deciding when to get ready for bed and meet back at their designated stop, and even setting aside some days for laundry.
With all the craziness that comes from adventure, Claudia and Jamie need a place that kind of feels like home—even if it's not.
An Institution of Knowledge
A museum is where you learn things—we get it. But for Claudia and Jamie, it goes beyond just looking at exhibits and reciting back facts and figures. The museum serves as a kind of catalyst for all that self-reflection and learning that the kids go through. Armed with the mystery of the angel, this dynamic duo ends up going to the library in order to research. Let us say that again. Two elementary school aged kids voluntarily decide to spend a whole day at the public library reading about dead artists. If the museum can inspire that kind of love of learning, then people should seriously consider letting their kids sleep over there more often.
Claudia and Jamie are also lucky enough to be somewhere where they can learn things that they wouldn't normally in school or at home. By choosing their tour groups, Claudia and Jamie get to choose what they learn each day:
Upon their return to the museum, Claudia informed Jamie that they should take advantage of the wonderful opportunity that they had to learn and to study. No other children in all the world since the world began had had such an opportunity. (4.12)
From how mummies are made to early American art to how to use a typewriter, Claudia and Jamie stuff a lot of information into those little heads of theirs during the brief stint at the museum. So if you want to convince your parents that you need a few days (or years) off from school, just tell them that you'd be much better off spending your time at museums.