The Name of the Game is a Graphic Novel written by Will Eisner, telling the story of the wealthy jewish Arnheim family, and their ups and downs during the 20th century. It also includes the families who get married into the Arnheim clan, namely the Ober family, the Krause family and the Kahn family, with a backstory presented for each of them.
The story centres around the life of Conrad Arnheim, the elder of two brothers (the other being the shy and nervous Alex), his wives, and how he handles life and his position as an heir to the Arnheim business. Conrad starts out as a Spoiled Brat with a doting mother, and a father who always paves the way for him. In time, Conrad manages to destroy many lives around him: Alex, who is considered "unfit" by his mother, is driven in to alcoholism and poverty. Lilly, his first wife, dies in childbirth after years of neglect and abuse. Helen, the daughter of Lilly and Conrad, is also neglected, likewise by her stepmother Eva (nee Krause), Conrad`s second wife, and is obviously The Woobie of the story. Her father breaks her heart when he pays off her boyfriend because he is not of the right sort. This ends badly, as Helen loses her life while trying to go after him (while skiing downhill).
This event, and the death of Lilly`s father, softens Conrad a little, and his younger daugher Rose takes advantage of it and rebels. She is Genre Savvy enough to know what she essentially can and can`t do, but rebels anyway, to marry the poet Aaron Kayn, because she likes him, and the two of them tries to build a different life.
But Aaron tires of a life as a Starving Artist, and joins Conrad`s business, soon falling into Conrad`s pattern of adultery and lies. Rose is quick to get the upper hand, and so is Conrad. But after Conrad`s death from at heart attack, brought on by Aaron`s sale of his business to an old rival, Rose takes charge and starts Parenting the Husband. Aaron`s parents are content anyway, because their son married into a wealthy family, and states that the name of the game is marriage. And, of course, Money, Dear Boy.
- And There Was Much Rejoicing: The funeral of Alva, Conrad`s mother, shown from the perspective of Conrad and Eva. He plans to go to a party, she is going home for a bath, and none of them seems to be in mourning at all.
- Eva`s reaction to Alva`s death? Lighting a cigarette with a small smirk on her face.
- Abusive Parents: Conrad towards Helen. Eva also towards Helen.
- More of psychological abuse than anything else - Eva just wants her out of the way.
- Action Girl: Rose, to the point where she slaps Aaron, and stops Conrad from slapping her.
- The Alcoholic: Alex Arnheim begins rather early, and strives with it througout the story.
- Arc Symbol: A closed door. Alex is often visibly shut out from negotiations, and later the door seems to stand for an ended discussion. Like when Alva decides for Conrad whether Lilly should survive or not.
- Arc Words: "We have connections!"
- Armor-Piercing Question: Conrad is sceptical towards Aaron because he is from a poorer family, but Aaron nails it:
- Aaron: Tell me, mr Arnheim - is there anything about the Arnheims that could embarass the Kayn family?Conrad: (Swallows his cigar in pure shock): Cough!
- Arranged Marriage: Implied with Conrad and Lilly. He is not happy about it either, and does it only for business.
- Author Avatar: Aaron. Like Aaron, Eisner was given the opportunity to join the firm of his father-in-law. Aaron did it and Took a Level in Jerkass. Eisner continued drawing comics.
- Break the Cutie / Kill the Cutie: Lilly Ober. Her marriage to Conrad is one long Humiliation Conga until she dies in childbirth.
- Also Helen, her daughter. Her Humiliation Conga is really heartbreaking.
- Buy Them Off: Conrad asserts to this ever so often. His parents did it on his behalf.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Rose. Conrad had it coming.
- Domestic Abuse: Conrad. He is shown beating up Lilly, and later, he beats up Eva - who actually goes with it for the sake of social position. Rose, on the other hand, stops him ("If you ever lay a hand on me, I`ll be out of here, and you`ll never see me again!")
- When Aaron and Rose comes to blows, Rose stops him:Don´t get rough with me, I know all about that stuff!
- Bonus points for Rose, as she is the one who slaps Aaron to make him comply.
- Freudian Excuse: He has been driven so hard by his mother, he ends up punishing his wives for it.
- When Aaron and Rose comes to blows, Rose stops him:
- Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: After years of abuse from Conrad (slapping Lilly, using his fist on Eva and threatening Rose, with the death of Helen as the most aggravating instance), one slap from Rose sends Aaron to the floor - and it seems she has every right to do it.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Conrad after the death of Helen.
- Aaron at the end of the story, being humiliated by Rose.
- Genre Savvy: Rose. She has to be if she is going to survive in her natural environment. Thus, as a ten year old, when comforting Helen:
- Well, I do know our parents.
- Gold Digger: Eva is straight about this. She married Conrad for wealth, and doesn`t give a rat`s ass about it when she finds him with another woman, as long as she can keep up appearances and have her fortune as his lawful wedded wife.
- It Runs in the Family: The Arnheim family has a tradition for keeping appearances up at any cost, and for bribery. Rose is the first one to take a stand against it.
- Jewish Mother: Alva, the mother of Conrad and Alex is a straight example.
- Lovable Alpha Bitch: Rose.
- My Beloved Smother: Alva. She is verging on Evil Matriarch, driving Alex into alcoholism by constantly favouring Conrad, and also pushing everyone around her because of her "keeping up appearances" policy. The last straw is when she is willing to sacrifice Lilly to secure a grandchild (The doctor states that Lilly`s health is so bad, she or the child may live, but not both of them). When Conrand hesitates, she callously suggests he hasn`t the stomach for it, and drives Conrad towards a decision that kills his wife.
- Conrad is actually helpless under her rule, nothing more than a pawn himself.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Twice for Conrad. First, when Abner Ober (Lilly`s father) dies, and second when Helen dies. At this point, Conrad clearly crosses the Despair Event Horizon.
- Parenting the Husband: Eva towards Conrad, Rose towards Aaron.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Isidore Arnheim, the father of Conrad. He dies rather early, though.
- Social Climber: The entire Arnheim family. It is stated that they are so into it that they do things they clearly detest, just to be in a position to win the social game.
- Spoiled Brat: Conrad acts like this his entire life.
- Understatement: Rose`s reaction to the death of Helen. We see and follow the reactions of Conrad, but when we know that Rose at a kid valued Helen far over her actual parents, her reactions are not shown at all, for dramatic effect. We only meet her again as a rebellious teenager. It is implied, however, that she took it pretty bad (although we never hear her mention Helen again).
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Aaron after he joins the Arnheim company.
- Took a Level in Kindness: Conrad after the death of Helen. He is still a jerk, but dares not suppress Rose. After all, her older sister lost her life because of his machinations.
- Uptown Girl: Rose, of course. But a rather intelligent one.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The events in this story are inspired by the wealthy background of Eisner`s wife.
- Your Cheating Heart: Conrad all the way. Aaron later on, after joining the Arnheim firm.