Study Guide

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Family

By E.L. Konigsburg

Family

On Saturdays Claudia emptied the wastebaskets, a task she despised. There were so many of them. Everyone in her family had his own bedroom and wastebasket except her mother and father who shared both—with each other. (1.10)

The idea that everyone has their own bedroom and wastebasket adds to the alienation that Claudia feels from most of her immediate family—except Jamie, that is. Instead of describing what they're like as people, we only see the family through the wastebaskets that Claudia empties.

Claudia sighed, "I don't want Steve. Steve is one of the things in my life that I'm running away from. I want you." (1.30)

How touching! Claudia chooses Jamie, out of all her brothers, to run away with her. Unlike the rest of the family (whom she's running away from), she wants to keep her relationship with Jamie. Maybe it's because he has a lot of money, or maybe it's just because they both get along (for the most part) and don't feel totally happy with their adventure-less lives at home.

And in the course of those miles Claudia stopped regretting bringing Jamie along. In fact when they emerged from the train at Grand Central into the underworld of cement and steel that leads to the terminal, Claudia felt that having Jamie there was important. (2.60)

Claudia is such an independent spirit—and kind of hardheaded to boot—but even she comes to realize the importance of teamwork. With Jamie's financial savvy, and her own ambitious ideas, they can do anything.

What happened was: they became a team, a family of two. There had been times before they ran away when they had acted like a team, but those were very different from feeling like a team. […] You might call it caring. You could even call it love. And it is very rarely, indeed, that it happens to two people at the same time—especially a brother and a sister who had always spent more time with activities than they had with each other. (3.58)

So what if they sometimes fight over things like how much money to spend? There's still an element of sweetness in Claudia and Jamie's relationship. And though neither of them would get so sentimental, they do become a "family of two."

As they once again reached the back stairs, Claudia asked Jamie, "With whom shall we dine today, Sir James?"

Jamie answered, "Oh, I don't know, dear Lady Claudia. Shall we find a good and proper group?"

"Yes, let us, Sir James." (4.80-82)

How fancy! In their own little elegant world of the museum, Claudia and Jamie get to live out her fantasy of being noble and rich. When Jamie plays along, it's not just because he likes it too—it's because she's his sister and he wants to humor her.

He must have thought STAY PUT exactly hard enough, for Claudia did just that. They never knew exactly why she did, but she did. (5.81)

You know those stories about how mothers and their children have weird, ESP based connections? In this story, it seems as though their sibling bond allows Claudia and Jamie to send messages to each other through pure brain waves. Which is good, 'cause their mom is probably too busy worrying about Kevin Brat.

Jamie was quiet for a minute, then he said, "We probably have no conscience. I think we ought to be homesick. Do you think Mom and Dad raised us wrong? They're not very mean, you know; don't you think that should make us miss them?" (5.112)

Even though they're together, the kids kind of feel disconnected from the rest of their family. After all, shouldn't they miss or think about their poor parents more? They're probably out of their minds with worry! But for whatever reason, they feel closer to each other than to their other blood relatives.

Claudia thought. "I guess we were worried. Boy, had I known that she was going to end up with Kevin, I would have known why we were worried." (5.121)

Family bonds don't just mean that you're related to someone on paper. Even though Claudia and Jamie are related to Kevin (their little brother), they're much more of a "family" together than they are with him.

"Well, you've known me for as long as I've known me," he said smiling. (8.94)

Ah, the good old fact of siblings. Even when you have your disagreements, there's still no one who knows you better, since you've been around each other your whole lives. Jamie's known Claudia the entire time he's been alive, so they're pretty darn close.

Well Saxonberg, that's why I'm leaving the drawing of Angel to […] your two lost grandchildren that you were so worried about. Since they intend to make me their grandmother, and you already are their grandfather, that makes us—oh, well, I won't even think about it. (10.31)

Oh, and here comes the big tie-in, the moment where everyone in the book becomes, that's right, FAMILY. Everyone who plays a big part in the book—from Mrs. Frankweiler to Saxonberg to all the Kinkaids—are revealed to be family in some way or another. How's that for thematic continuity?