From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E.L. Konigsburg
Where It All Goes Down
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Let's take a moment to look at a photo of the Met and imagine how Claudia and Jamie must have felt when they reached this imposing, beautiful building that held one of the world's finest art collections. Ah.
Why didn't Claudia choose someplace more fun to hide out, like an arcade or amusement park? They could have been carnies! Instead, she chooses someplace that she knows about, someplace that is kind of serious and not totally known for being fun or filled to the brim with cotton candy.
But if Claudia wanted elegance, intrigue, and world-class adventure, then there's really no better place to go. The Met, after all, was founded by a group of Americans who met in Paris and decided that they wanted to create a "national institution and gallery of art" for the American people. Since Claudia's such an ambitious girl (and taken with all things elegant), that kind of history really appeals to her.
A Landmark Building
The Met is a pretty special place. Mrs. Frankweiler tries to explain why in her usual, polished, well-spoken way:
[…] the museum is great and large and wonderful and free to all. And complicated. Complicated enough even for Jamie Kinkaid. (3.22)
As a place that has works spanning 5,000 years, you know that the Met is considered a "very important place." Mrs. Frankweiler is surprised (and dismayed) that Saxonberg hasn't taken advantage of it when it's such an important place to visit. After all, it's one of the stops that tourists make when they go to New York City, and New York City has a whole lot of other things to visit.
Fine and Expensive Things
At home it may be just gross, snotty tissues in wastebaskets and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Claudia and Jamie, but at the Met, they get to live like royalty… literally. They're surrounded by the wealth and fine things that used to belong to a bunch of dead, rich, famous people, and being able to handle and touch things like that surely makes you feel like you've moved up in life.
When they find their bed (an ornate, four poster affair), the narrator states: "Claudia had always known that she was meant for such fine things" (2.52). Of course, this "fine thing" is literally the scene of an alleged murder, but Claudia seems to care less about the creepiness and ick factor and more about how it used to belong to nobility.
These items are way more exciting and delicious to touch than any of their boring old furniture at home. And it's better to be rolling around in some dead person's sheets than collecting everyone's wastebaskets at home. At least this is interesting.
The City of Adventure
Has there ever been a city as talked about as New York? New York is considered the city of love, dreams, lights, and more. It's the stuff of legends, as far as places go. Even Sinatra waxed poetic about the city; you can't get much higher praise than that.
Claudia chooses New York City because it's the kind of place that everyone wants to run away to. It's big, beautiful, and the stuff of pop culture legend. If Claudia wants adventure and fun, she's not going to stay in the suburbs. She and Jamie are going to go to the big city:
Claudia loved the city because it was elegant; it was important; and busy. (1.6)
Is there any better argument for where they should go? It sounds like a fabulous place—and it is. The city also has the connotation of being the place where people seek their fortunes. As someone who wants to start over (or at least come back different), this must be appealing to Claudia. There's a sense of possibility (without impossibility) in the city, and Claudia and Jamie jump on that opportunity. Even though they're kids, they're in a place where anything can happen, and by golly, they're going to take full advantage of it.
Part of the Bigger Picture
Out in the suburbs, Claudia and Jamie are confined to pretty everyday interactions with people—they go to school, come home and bicker with their siblings, and run into friends and acquaintances occasionally. Being in the Big Apple, though, gives them a sense of just how many people are in the world:
If you think of doing something in New York City, you can be certain that at least two thousand other people have that same thought. (4.15)
They get a better sense that there are things out there that are bigger than themselves. It's not all about what Claudia and Jamie Kinkaid think and want. It's about the bigger picture, too. Say what you will about the rat race, but at the end of the day, it's important to feel like a part of a collective.