Marcelo in the Real World
by Francisco X. Stork
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
There are so many horses in Marcelo in the Real World that if the book had a smell, it would be hay. (Yeah, we could have said something more disgusting, but we're classy like that.) The day we meet Marcelo, he's in a hurry to get out of that brain scanner so he can go meet the new foal at Paterson, which he gets to name. He's nabbed the job of stable boy for the summer, and it's perfect for him: "I will be in charge of the ponies' well-being. I will determine when a pony should be fed and watered and rested. I will be consulted by the instructors and therapists on which pony is best suited for a kid with a particular disability" (2.2). Sounds like a sweet gig.
We see right off the bat that Marcelo is passionate about horses and compassionate toward them. He wants to become a nurse like his mom Aurora and work with horses and disabled kids after he gets out of school. All he knows of horses is how they help people. But when he meets Jasmine, Marcelo learns for the first time that they can cause suffering, even death. The first time Jasmine really opens up to him is when she tells him, "I was angry at a horse for the longest time" (14.69). Turns out her brother was kicked in the stomach by a jittery racehorse and killed.
So wait a second. Are horses good or bad? Marcelo loves them, but Jasmine? Not so much. As it turns out, there's a little bit of good and bad in them, which becomes clearer when you consider the fact that in Marcelo, horses and moolah are oh so intertwined in oh so many ways:
• Marcelo learned to train posh Haflinger ponies at an expensive private school with an equine therapy program.
• Jasmine's brother James attempted to train a wayward Kentucky racehorse without any knowledge, because he wanted to breed it for money.
• The ponies at Paterson are given Austrian names because the breed comes from Austria.
• James, on the other hand, named his horse Kickaz.
Money, as we see throughout Marcelo in the Real World, can buy just about anything: yachts, private schools, expensive houses with big yards, and unscrupulous lawyers who will protect you when you hurt others. But if you don't have money, you can be disfigured by a defective windshield, forced to live with a mangled face, or killed by a horse you don't have the education to train. Because let's face it: if James had had Arturo for a father instead of Amos, he might have had Marcelo's education, and he wouldn't have been kicked by Kickaz. In other words, he'd still be alive.
To sum up, horses accomplish two things in this book: they point to Marcelo's compassion, and they also point to class differences that can mean the difference between life and death. All in a day's work for a symbol.