Study Guide

Maniac Magee Freedom and Confinement

By Jerry Spinelli

Freedom and Confinement

Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan hated each other, but because they were strict Catholics, they wouldn't get a divorce. Around the time Jeffrey arrived, they stopped talking to each other. Then they stopped sharing. (1.7-9)

No wonder Maniac feels trapped: he's surrounded by two of everything. Anything, even homelessness, sounds preferable than being confined in two homes smushed into one.

And that's when the running started. Three springy steps down from the risers—girls in pastel dresses screaming, the music director lunging—a leap from the stage, out the side door and into the starry, sweet, onion-grass-smelling night. (1.13-14)

Okay, we love Maniac, but really: why does Maniac think his only option here is to run? Maybe he should have tried harder to talk to someone first.

When he wasn't reading, he was wandering. When most people wander, they walk. Maniac Magee ran. Around town, around the nearby townships, always carrying the book, keeping it in perfect condition. (8.15)

Maniac may be wandering, but he's already got ties to his future home that he carries with him. Maybe this is the happy medium between freedom and confinement: wandering, but carrying a tie to home.

Before Maniac could go to sleep, however, there was something he had to do. He flipped off the covers and went downstairs. Before the puzzled faces of Mr. and Mrs. Beale, he opened the front door and looked at the three cast-iron digits nailed to the door frame: seven two eight. He kept staring at them, smiling. Then he closed the door, said a cheerful 'Goodnight,' and went back to bed. (12.26-27)

All right! Maniac has an address! And it's not confining at all, not unless you consider a big warm hug to be confining.

So he turned and started walking north on Hector, right down the middle of the street, right down the invisible chalk line that divided East End from West End. Cars beeped at him, drivers hollered, but he never flinched. The Cobras kept right along with him on their side of the street. So did a bunch of East Enders on their side. One of them was Mars Bar. Both sides were calling for him to come over. And then they were calling at each other, then yelling, then cursing. But nobody stepped off a curb, everybody kept moving north, an ugly, snarling black-and-white escort for the kid in the middle. (21.11-12)

Yeah, he's moving, and yeah, he's outside, but he's about as trapped as he possibly can be.

Every morning, same thing. You get to expect it. Some mornings, you forget Mom's milk and head right on over to the lean-to. The creature offers you a carrot, but all you know how to deal with is milk. You nuzzle the new, funny-smelling, hairy-headed animal. It nuzzles you back. Mom doesn't seem to mind.

After the nuzzling, the stranger climbs over the fence and goes away, not to return until that night. Only, one morning the stranger falls from the fence and lies on the ground, on the other side. It doesn't move. You try to poke your nose through the chain links, but you can't reach, you can only watch…only watch… (22.3-4)

The Baby Buffalo is behind a fence, and Maniac can come and go as he pleases. But even though he's technically free right now, Maniac has about as little control over his life as the Buffalo does at this point.

The old man gave himself up willingly to his exhaustion and drifted off like a lazy, sky-high fly ball. Something deep in his heart, unmeasured by his own consciousness, soared unburdened for the first time in thirty-seven years, since the time he had so disgraced himself before the Mud Hens' scout and named himself thereafter a failure. The blanket was there, but it was the boy's embrace that covered and warmed him. (28.23)

Poor Grayson. Seriously. This is the first time in thirty-seven years that he's felt free—and why? Because he's taken responsibility for someone else.

Other than that, he went wherever there was room to go forward—along roads and alleys and railroad tracks, across fields and cemeteries and golf courses. (33.6)

As long as he's moving, Maniac doesn't really have to think about all that's wrong—but is that really the same thing as being free? Or are his chains there just waiting for him to slow down?

When he returned to the West End, he heard in the distance Mrs. Pickwell whistling her children to dinner. Though he had heard the whistle many times, he had not answered it since his first day in town. Now he felt, as he had that day, that it was meant for him." (40.1-2)

Maybe freedom is only really worth it when there is someplace you actually want to be. After all, it doesn't feel like freedom if you don't have anything to leave behind.

"I am not asking you. I'm telling you. You are coming home with me, and you are going to sleep in my room, which is going to be your room—and I don't care if you sleep on the floor or the windowsill or what—but you are going to sleep there and not here." (46.23)

Sometimes lack of total freedom is a good thing, because it means someone cares enough to not let you go. Maniac needs Amanda telling him to come home a lot more than he needs the ability to sleep with zoo animals and run ten miles a day.

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