Study Guide

Maniac Magee Courage

By Jerry Spinelli

Courage

As the stupefied high-schoolers were leaving the scene, they looked back. They saw the kid, cool times ten, stretch out on the forbidden steps and open his book to read. (5.19)

Okay, (1) this is awesome. But (2), is Maniac really being brave here? Or does he just have no idea that he should be scared of Finsterwald's? Does it make a difference to his legend?

Strike three took dead aim at the kid's knees, and here was the kid, swooping back and at the same time swatting at the ball like a golfer teeing off. It was the craziest baseball swing you ever saw, but there was the ball smoking out to center field. (7.26)

Ok, at this point even Maniac's got to know he should be scared. A giant kid just sent a fastball straight at his head, for Pete's sake. So now, we're willing to give it to Maniac, who's staying in the batter's box against this pitch and this pitcher: courageous after all.

More than anything, Maniac wanted to hug Amanda and tell her it was okay. He wanted to go inside, be with his family, in his house, his room, behind his window. But that wasn't the right thing. The right thing was to make sure the Beales didn't get hurt anymore. He couldn't keep letting them pay such a price for him. (21.8)

Is Maniac being courageous or cowardly here? Let's look at the facts. Striking out on his own to protect those he cares about the most? Brave. Letting others' prejudice dictate how he treats his own family? Hm. That looks a little like cowardice to us.

"He was twenty-seven years old then, and that was the closest he would ever get to the Big Show. He hung on for thirteen more years, a baseball junkie, winding up in some hot tamale league in Guanajuato, Mexico, until his curveball could no longer bend around so much as a chili pepper and his fastball was slower than a senorita's answer." (25.30)

Can you imagine being brave enough to stick around minor league baseball for thirteen years, even though you know you'll probably never make it back to the majors? We're not sure we could. We can barely bring ourselves to run the mile in P.E.

Two days later, while playing pepper in the Legion infield, the old man said to the kid, "So why don't you go ahead and teach me how to read?" (26.22)

Grayson courageous? Yes sirree! Asking Maniac to teach him how to read shows us he knows what's important, and he knows better than to let fear get in the way of accomplishing it. After all, this is a grown man asking a little kid to teach him to read. That shows a lot of guts.

He climbed the fence at the American bison pen at the zoo—he had suggested this feat himself, everyone else scoffing—and, while the mother looked on, kissed the baby buffalo. (37.6)

Okay, we really do think Maniac is courageous—but he's also smart enough to know that sometimes, all you have to do is look brave.

Maniac had to wrap Mars Bar in a bear hug to keep him from charging the fat red roller. The laughter stopped as if cut by scissors. The Cobras were standing. John McNab sauntered forward. ' You got a problem, sonny?' (42.34)

You couldn't pay us enough to go to this party if we were Mars. But go he does. And stays. Just to prove a point? Maybe. But his going and staying shows that he is more than brave enough to be Maniac's friend.

Mars Bar stared with growing astonishment at Maniac, whose wide, unblinking eyes were fixed on the trestle, yet somehow did not seem to register what was there. Nor did he seem to hear Piper pleading. With the drenched, mud-footed kid clawing at him, he turned without a word, without a gesture, and left the platform and went downstairs. Shortly he appeared on the sidewalk below. He crossed Main and continued walking slowly up Swede, Piper screaming after him from the end of the platform. (44.20)

Did someone forget to tell Maniac that he is supposed to be fearless? We get it, this is the site of a major tragedy, but we were still a little surprised that Maniac isn't able to help Russell.

Maniac told him the story of his parents' death. He told about his problem with the trestle, how he had learned to avoid it. "And then, all of a sudden, there I was, on the platform, looking out at it, closer to it than I ever was before, up on the same level. I always saw it from below before. Now I was up there, too, where they were, looking down, and it was more real than ever. The nightmare was worse than ever. I saw the trolley coming ... I saw it...f-falling...them...them..."

They walked in silence past the silo-shaped cage of the broken-winged golden eagle.

Mars Bar swallowed hard. His voice was hoarse. 'I knew you wasn't scared.'' (45.35-37)

So let's listen to Mars here, because he gets it. It isn't about fear, it's about trauma. This goes way beyond fear. That's a lot of understanding from a character who doesn't always show a ton of empathy.

In an instant he was bolt upright again, yanked by a hand he couldn't believe belonged to a girl.

'Don't tell me can't. I didn't come all the way out here in my nightshirt and my slippers and climb that fence and almost kill myself so I could hear you tell me can't!' (46.23)

Okay, let's not forget Amanda while we're measuring courage. She's the one who sets her sights on a goal and makes it happen despite some pretty serious obstacles. Like a buffalo pen.

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