Marcelo in the Real World
by Francisco X. Stork
Where It All Goes Down
(Mostly) Boston, MA
Francisco X. Stork, like Arturo Sandoval, is a Mexican-American lawyer who lives in Boston. Write what you know, right? Still, we think it goes a little deeper than that. But hey, we're Shmoop, and we like to think about things.
Boston's a great city, but it's also one in which class distinction is pretty blatant. Unless you're super brilliant and get a scholarship (which we highly encourage), it takes a lot of money to pull a Wendell and go to Harvard. Cambridge, the Boston suburb where Harvard is located, is uber-fancy, with big, expensive houses and pricey boutiques. But cross the Charles River and head south to Jamaica Plain, the neighborhood where Jerry Garcia's office is located, and you'll find a section of Centre Street known as the Latin Quarter. Although JP, as the locals call it, is also a funky neighborhood filled with artists, it's traditionally Hispanic. In other words, it's no Cambridge. You'll find great Cuban, Mexican, and Dominican food, but there probably won't be many squash games going down.
When Wendell strands Marcelo after lunch, Marcelo's in Chinatown. And when Jasmine comes to his rescue, Marcelo learns she lives there. As she takes him into her building, she says, "This used to be a dorm for medical students attending Tufts. Now it's mostly used by immigrants from Cambodia" (14.94). In other words, after the students had passed through and, presumably, become doctors, people with very little money moved into the cramped rooms indefinitely. Jasmine, who comes from a poor family, is one of the only white people living there.
The only time we leave Massachusetts is to go to Vermont, where Jasmine's family life is a big-time contrast to Marcelo's. Suddenly it's all Bud Light, fiddle tunes, and folks who think Kickaz is a good name. Amos's house, where Jasmine grew up, is so run-down that even the lawn ornaments have seen better days: according to Marcelo, "As we get closer, we see an assortment of plastic animals on the front lawn: a family of deer, two white swans (now grayish), a mother duck with six ducklings behind her (one tipped over), two rabbits kissing each other, a brown fox, a groundhog up on his hind legs, a flamingo that could have been pink at one time but is now a whitish color" (22.44).
Obviously, not all of Vermont is like this; there are certainly fancy houses and expensive neighborhoods there, too. But because Jasmine doesn't live in one, it's all completely alien to Marcelo. He might as well have touched down on Mars. So when he chooses, at the end of the book, to leave Boston behind and go back to Vermont with Jasmine, it's all the more profound. We see that Marcelo doesn't need fancy stuff; he just needs someone who really listens. All the money in the world can't bring his Internal Music back, but Jasmine can. If that means faded lawn ornaments, then see ya later, Boston—bring on the tipped-over ducklings.