Study Guide

Marcus Yallow in Little Brother

By Cory Doctorow

Marcus Yallow

A.k.a. w1n5t0n, a.k.a. M1k3y

Marcus is the engine that drives Little Brother. Without him…well, without him, this would just be a terrifying (and terrifyingly boring) book about terrorists blowing up the Bay Bridge and the whole Bay Area falling under paranoid surveillance.

But Marcus is around to stir things up for us.

So who is this rebel with a cause?

High School Confidential

On the surface, Marcus's just a geeky seventeen-year-old high schooler. And we mean "geeky" in the best possible way: 100% of his creative energy is devoted to computers, LARPing, andARGs. (Game on, Marcus.)

Because of the fact that he channels all his energy into geeking out, he doesn't have a lot of time to spend on mundane things like actually going to school—he'd much rather cut class, hang out with his buddies, and change the face of technology. And when he's not indulging his passion for tech, he likes eating pizza, drinking coffee, and locking lips with his sweetie-pie Ange.

In fact, to the adults in his life he looks suspiciously like a normal juvenile delinquent—when we first meet Marcus, he's being called to the principal's office.

But what sets Marcus apart from the typical rebellious teen? Is it his research of the law or his willingness to stand against authority figures? Or is he just an ordinary person pushed into extraordinary circumstances?

The answer: a little bit of both.

Private Eye

If there's one passion in Marcus' life that can begin to rival his lust for pizza, it's his devotion to privacy. Yallow believes firmly in privacy as a right, and he'll find ways around "security" measures whenever possible to protect that privacy. As he says:

"There's something really liberating about having some corner of your life that's yours, that no one gets to see except you." (4.34)

We couldn't agree more.

This love of keeping a "corner of [his] life that's [his] prompts Marcus to adopt secret identities. Yup: he has more than one—he starts off with the handle w1n5t0n, but later moves to M1k3y. These pseudonyms allow Marcus to be, paradoxically, more authentic.

That's part of Marcus' ideology concerning privacy: he believes that you can have more freedom when you aren't being watched. So by hiding who he "really is" he's more able to actually be himself. (That's deep, bro.)

But it's not just a question of being the best Marcus possible: his multiple identities also let Marcus hide in plain sight when he desperately needs to be hidden. As Ange points out,

"Marcus, they don't know who you are. Think about that. All those people, money, guns and spies, and you, a seventeen year old high school kid — you're still beating them." (17.113)

That's got to feel good.

But the handle of M1k3y ends up being more than just Marcus' pseudonym. Over time, Marcus and Ange swap time on the keyboard… meaning that M1k3y ends up being the secret identity of both Marcus alone and Marcus and Ange working together. We think that's just about the most aww-inducing bit of relationship sweetness we've ever heard of.

Bob—er, Marcus—The Builder

And Marcus makes more than just secret identities. In fact, we think he's one of the prolific and brilliant fictional builders we've met—take a dang seat, Howard Roark.

Okay, maybe Marcus isn't building skyscrapers. But he does build friend groups, alternative internets, vampire flashmobs, and knowledge bases—you know, the kind of things that Little Brother's DHS is trying to shut down.

Marcus's brilliant computer skills also include hardware and software creation, and he's good at using pre-existing internet spaces in new ways, like using the game Clockwork Plunder as a place for a press conference.

In fact, we think that his high school should just let him graduate with honors, and stop holding back this boy genius.

Actually, Freedom Is Free

It would be impressive enough if Marcus' tech tinkering was just part of a hobby or an art project. But he's more interested in the big picture—specifically the big picture of freedom.

Marcus's story arc moves from being caught by DHS to being set free to knowing that he's started something they can't stop, even if they have captured him again. He spends a good amount of time meditating on complex historical problems. This is a perk for us as readers—most of the time we get to join his thought process, learning more sides to both his particular conflict and ones that have shaped American history.

And speaking of American history…it's impossible to read Little Brother as anything other than a political statement on today's government surveillance, which is already more intense than when the book was written.

We get exposed to a lot of serious issues in this novel, and all of these Big Questions are filtered through the character of Marcus.

For example, Marcus' dad poses this question:

"What's the big deal? Would you rather have privacy or terrorists?" (9.37)

But Marcus doesn't see this as an either/or situation. He sees a way to have both privacy and fight terrorism…and because we have Marcus as our guide throughout Little Brother, we start to think about solutions to the problem of terrorism that don't involve violations privacy

Character Or Mouthpiece?

But Marcus' function as a political symbol has a price—he's an awesome programmer, visionary, and rebel…but is he a dynamic character?

The answer is "Not really." Although Marcus learns a lot about himself, his friends, and his country, we're not really sure how much he changes throughout the course of the novel. His relationship with Ange changes how he feels about romance and relationships, but it doesn't really change him.

Marcus grows, but he doesn't evolve. The Marcus we meet in Chapter 1 is the same Marcus we say goodbye to at the end of the novel.

But hey: although Marcus doesn't change as an individual, he does change the world. Can't have it all.