Study Guide

Maniac Magee Prejudice

By Jerry Spinelli

Prejudice

Maniac loved almost everything about his new life.

But everything did not love him back. (15.24-25)

Why is it things that don't love him back here, and not just people? Is there just something about the situation that's not working for him?

He could see these things, but he couldn't see what they meant. He couldn't see that Mars Bar disliked him, maybe even hated him.

When you think about it, it's amazing all the stuff he didn't see." (16.6-7)

For someone so smart and capable, Maniac sure has a hard time seeing what is going on around him. Is it because of how he's grown up, or is there something just different about Maniac?

And some kids don't like a kid who is different.

Such as a kid who is allergic to pizza. (16.10-11)

Is that all it really comes down to—not liking or being afraid of differences? Well, maybe. And we get the sense from the way this is phrased that prejudice is a kid's game. Adults should know better.

But there it was, piling up around him: dislike. Not from everybody. But enough. And Maniac couldn't see it. (16.17)

Maybe it's actually a good thing that Maniac is so blind to the bad things around him. Out of sight, out of mind—until he's forced to see them, at least.

The old man stepped closer. "You got your own kind. It's how you wanted it. Let's keep it that way. NOW MOVE ON. Your kind's waitin'"—he flung his finger westward—up there." (17.18)

The old guy should know better, right? But prejudice goes both ways. Even minority groups can be prejudiced—and, considering how they're treated, can you blame them?

Mrs. Beale was out front with the yellow bucket, soapsuds spilling over the brim, a stiff bristle brush in her hand. She was scrubbing the house, the brick wall, scrubbing furiously at the chalk, grunting with the effort, her cheeks wet. He had been way too early, way too fast. Only the F had been scrubbed away. The rest was quite easy to read, the tall yellow letters the same color as the scrub bucket: ISHBELLY GO HOME." (18.29)

Whew, someone really doesn't want Maniac around. Poor Mrs. Beale is out there trying to scrub away the evidence, but even Maniac can't help seeing it now.

Amanda tried to reason with him. "You can't listen to that old coot. He's goofy. He's always saying stuff like that. You can't go because of something one nutty old coot says.'

Maniac pointed out that it wasn't the nutty old coot who chalked up the front of the house.

Amanda laughed. "That? That's no big deal. It wasn't even paint. If they really meant it, they would've done it in paint." (18.1-3)

Oh, so they only kind of meant it. Well, that's fine, then. Except, not really. It's obvious at this point that Amanda's wrong: the East Enders' prejudice runs deep. (Although at least none of them are building bunkers. We think.)

Russell stops firing long enough to send Maniac a where-have you-been? Look. "Who do ya think?" he sneers. He points the red barrel of the submachine gun toward the bedroom door. Toward the east. The East End." (35.49)

Prejudice doesn't have an age limit—of course, not, because we usually learn it at home. Russell probably doesn't even understand what's going on right now, but it wont' be long until he's just as mean and hateful as his dad and big brother. Unless Maniac steps in, of course.

The cockroach strolling up his pant leg wasn't the only thing making Maniac feel crawly. He shook off the roach. He moved to the center of the kitchen, to surround himself with as much space as possible. "But other people," he said, "I don't hear them talking about revolts. Nobody else wants to make a pillbox." (39.35)

Living with the McNabs is pretty unpleasant, but it does teach Maniac a lot. Like how there isn't only one way to react to something—how prejudice isn't universal, but taught and learned. That means it can be untaught and unlearned too.

In some vague way, to abandon the McNab boys would be to abandon something in himself. He couldn't shake the suspicion that deep inside Russell and Piper McNab, in the prayer-dark seed of their kidhoods, they were identical to Hester and Lester Beale. But they were spoiling, rotting, from the outside in, like a pair of peaches in the sun. Soon, unless he, unless somebody did something, the rot would reach the pit. (40.10)

So Maniac gets it: everybody has a chance—no one is unsavable. At least to a point. Is Maniac right—is there still time for Russell and Piper, or is it already too late? And can Maniac actually save them?

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