Study Guide

Maniac Magee Innocence

By Jerry Spinelli

Innocence

Maniac Magee was not born in a dump. He was born in a house, a pretty ordinary house, right across the river from here, in Bridgeport. And he had regular parents, a mother and a father. (1.1)

Okay, but is Maniac really normal to start? He has a normal family, but we still think that there must be something special about him.

Then the giggling stopped, and eyes started to shift and heads started to turn, because now everybody could see that this wasn't part of the show at all, that little Jeffrey Magee wasn't supposed to be up there on the risers, pointing to his aunt and uncle, bellowing out from the midst of the chorus: "Talk! Talk, will ya! Talk! Talk! Talk!" (1.11-12)

We still think Maniac could have handled this better, but it does show his innocence: he says—screams—what he's thinking. There's no adult deception and silence in this one.

But it was something they heard that made him stick in their minds all these years. As he passed them, he said, "Hi." Just that—"Hi"—and he was gone. They stopped, they blinked, they turned, they started after him, they wondered: Do I know that kid? Because people just didn't' say that to strangers, out of the blue. (2.7)

Gee, the world might be a nicer place if we were all this innocent. Think about it: why do you avoid saying "Hi"? Because you're afraid of strangers? Because you don't trust people? Because you're not innocent enough to think they'll respond?

"Besides," said the doctors, "this would have shown up on him since he was little, most likely, every time he came near a pizza." He turned to Maniac, still chuckling. "You have eaten pizza before, haven't you?"

Maniac got a funny expression on his face. He looked around. Everybody was starting at him. The silence grew longer, eyes grew wider…

And that's how they found out that Maniac Magee was allergic to pizza." (13.30-32)

This is physical evidence of the sheltered life Maniac lived with his aunt and uncle: he's literally never eaten pizza. He's pizza-innocent. Weird, right? Well, it goes to show you what a bummer of a childhood he's had.

And they high-fived and low-fived and back-fived, and Hands Down would laugh and Laugh.

Maniac loved trash talk. The words were different, but in some strange way they reminded him of church. It had spirit, it had what they called soul. Pretty soon he was talking trash with the rest of them.

And pretty soon he brought it home." (15.13-15)

Yikes, we thought Maniac was smart enough to know better than to trash talk Mrs. Beale! Again, he's so innocent that he just doesn't get it. He doesn't know that you don't talk to adults in the same way you talk to your friends. He's just… himself, no matter what.

Maniac danced and pranced and screamed with the rest. He learned how to jump in front of the gusher and let it propel him halfway across the street. He joined in a snake dance. He got goofy. He drenched himself in all the wet and warm and happy. (17.8)

This is true innocence in the best sense: completely abandoning yourself to happiness. Too bad for Maniac, this is also the moment when he starts to lose it.

Maniac felt why more than he knew why. It had to do with homes and families and schools, and how a school seems sort of like a big home, but only a day home, because then it empties out; and you can't stay there at night because it's not really a home and you could never use it as your address, because an address is where you stay at night, where you walk right in the front door without knocking, where everybody talks to each other and uses the same toaster. So all the other kids would be heading for their homes, their night homes, each of them, hundreds, flocking from school like birds form a tree, scattering across town, each breaking off to his or her own place, each knowing exactly where to land. School. Home. No, he was not going to have one without the other. (23.21)

Hm, maybe not so innocent after all. This is a pretty sophisticated thought—but at the same time, it's a little simplistic. Maniac may not see people in black and white, but he does see the world in black and white. For him, there's no in between. Either you have a home and go to school and have discipline and family home evenings; or you live in a buffalo pen or in a bandstand. No compromises.

The night before the game, Grayson spent half of it on his knees by his bed, praying. And even five minutes before the game, in the dugout, he bent down, pretending to tie his shoe, and closed one eye and prayed: "Please let me win this ball game.' Which was something, since he had never gone to a church in his life. (25.28)

Innocence can be lost all sorts of ways. Grayson loses his innocence after this botched game, because he loses his faith in himself. He just can't trust himself any more. And you know what? This is one kind of innocence that Maniac never seems to lose.

Sometimes my mom ain't got no sense. She makes me play games with them. Monopoly and stuff. Finally my father drives them home. (45.61)

This Mrs. Beale at her best: she sees the innocence under the bluster of Russell and Piper and realizes that they need, like all kids, is to be treated like kids.

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