Study Guide

Marcelo in the Real World Quotes

  • Language and Communication

    One of the reasons I like working with Dr. Malone is that his facial expressions are so clear and easy to understand. That one he just made, for example, is a textbook example of "baffled." (1.23)

    Marcelo sees the world as one giant "how are you feeling today?" poster. You know, the ones with the happy faces, most of which aren't actually happy?

    She's actually speaking faster than I would have preferred. There are words and phrases that elude me. But one of the things I learned at Paterson was to let people talk even though I don't understand every single thing I hear. As they go on the meaning becomes clear. (6.98)

    The Real World must be so exhausting for a guy like Marcelo. To him, trying to survive outside Paterson and his family is like trying to survive alone in a foreign country where you don't speak the language and there are no horses to help you out.

    Despite hours of practicing at Paterson, initiating "small talk" is still a formidable challenge for me. "You play squash," I finally think to say. Only I'm aware that I did not enunciate the phrase in the form of a question. (7.59)

    Think about the difference between how people from America ask questions vs. the way people from England do. American questions have a rising inflection on the last word; English questions have a rising inflection on the next-to-last word. Marcelo might have to learn to recognize questions all over again if he traveled to the U.K.

    I hear a lot of "Then he said" or "Then she said" and this reporting of what other people have said is retold with a lot of emotion. This I think is the law firm's equivalent of large talk, since emotion is not something that accompanies small talk. (8.4)

    It's often the bottling up of emotion that accompanies small talk. For example, when someone asks you how you are, you may be really awful, but you say you're fine because that's what you're supposed to say. Plus you don't want to totally freak them out by bursting into sobs.

    Even when she is angry, like at Juliet for example, you can tell that the anger does not affect her. The reason I can tell is that her breathing never alters. A person who is truly angry has physical reactions that last for a while, even after the event that caused the anger is gone. (8.27)

    Can you imagine having to learn about human emotions not by feeling them, but by observing how they affect other people physically? Would it be more frightening to witness anger as Marcelo, or as a "normal" person?

    Actually I am asking myself if conversations between friends always feel like this—two minds bound together by their focus on the same subject. (9.40)

    Conversations do feel this way—if they're good. Otherwise, why would Marcelo get teary-eyed for the first time when Jasmine makes a list for him like the kind he makes for himself? And how would Jasmine have known what kind of list to make?

    I am thinking about how hard it is for me to communicate with my father. He is the one person I would most like to "chat" with. We could sit in our backyard and talk small talk or large talk. It wouldn't matter. (10.42)

    Unfortunately, Arturo's only willing to communicate on his own terms. He's more concerned with Marcelo being "normal" than with actually understanding him.

    "You are raising your voice. I haven't seen you do that in a very long time. That's interesting. Anyway, I will get Jasmine the help she wanted to begin with. She'll be all right." (15.54)

    In noticing that Marcelo's raising his voice but failing to process the emotion behind it, Arturo's behaving way more Aspergerishly (adverb of the day!) than his son. It's an odd moment where a similar behavior shows just how little these two understand each other.

    I sign I love you with my hand, the way I learned at Paterson.

    She touches her heart with her hand and then she touches my chest. (22.24-25)

    American Sign Language has its own sentence construction, vocabulary, and slang. To learn more about Deaf culture and why some people choose to sign rather than speak, check out the documentary Sound and Fury. (Have the tissues handy.)

    "If you knew how much of what people say and do I fail to understand, you would not call me smart. I stop myself from asking what something means because otherwise no one would talk to me. I'm not smart. I have been trained. It is training and concentration. Years of learning how to communicate." (23.102)

    As Stewart Copeland, the famous drummer for The Police, once said about playing the drums, "Any fool can do it. All you've got to do is practice."

  • Suffering

    "You know how I feel about that," Dr. Malone says to Aurora. "I don't believe in suffering. If a kid is happy, understood, and appreciated, he will bloom in his or her own time. Paterson has been good to Marcelo. Look at the results." (1.70)

    Earth to Arturo… paging Arturo! We'll be over here with the horses!

    "Suffering and death do not affect me the way they seem to affect others." (4.34)

    While this might make Marcelo sound a bit like a sociopath, to be fair, love, sex, and music don't affect him like they affect others, either.

    "The only good thing about having him around this summer is that it's fun to see him miserable. He hates having to spend the summer here when he could be out racing yachts or something, but his father is making him do it, God only knows why." (6.122)

    We'll admit it: we kind of like seeing Wendell miserable, too. After all, the dude kicks birds. Shouldn't he get his comeuppance every now and again?

    Half of her face is intact, but the other side is missing. The skin on the deformed side is withered and scarred, as if the cheek and jaw had been carved away with a large knife. (15.40)

    Or maybe a Vidromek windshield, and maybe she's just been waiting for someone like Marcelo to come along. Sure, he's an unlikely hero. But just because Marcelo doesn't totally understand human suffering, doesn't mean he can't work to relieve some of it.

    I have been around kids that suffer at Paterson, at St. Elizabeth's. It's like I have walked among them without noticing the pain that must exist beneath their skin. Now I notice the girl in the picture and feel as if I were responsible for her pain. (16.4)

    What made Marcelo more sensitive to Ixtel's suffering than other kids'? Was it the fact that she was so outwardly disfigured, or that his father was willing to allow it to happen to others?

    One day Abba saw me looking at the portrait and she said, "That's Jesus' heart. It shows how he feels for us." Then she took the picture down and sat beside me on her bed. "The thorns are His sorrow for all that we suffer, and the flame is His love." (16.5)

    When most people feel a flame in their heart, they call it heartburn, but most people aren't Jesus.

    Is there a way to articulate what I feel? It seem like a long time passes before I speak. "I guess it would be something like, 'How do we go about living when there is so much suffering?' Does the question make sense? Is it the kind of question that is asked?" (17.70)

    In a way it's charming that Marcelo is this naïve, but it's also heartbreaking. He's only just scratched the surface of human suffering. And not to be a downer or anything, but it only gets worse from here, buddy. But hey, it also gets better, too.

    By the way, the reconstructive surgery will not only somewhat restore the girl's beauty, it will also allow her to speak clearly, chew, and alleviate the pain she feels whenever she eats or tries to speak now. (19.74)

    Learning about Ixtel teaches Marcelo that there are some people who have been hurt so badly that they can't even do basic things like using their mouths without pain. It's what spurs him on to do the right thing and help her.

    "Even now, they are still making them the same dangerous way, because if they fix the problem they would be admitting there was a problem." (19.106)

    How many human behaviors are driven by exactly this logic? Addiction, untreated illness, damaged relationships; the list goes on and on. It takes an incredibly brave person to admit a problem.

  • Sex

    "Do you notice things like that, Marcelo? You know, when a woman is hot to look at, pleasant to the eyes, attractive? Do you get that urge we all get when we see a good female body?" (7.66)

    Marcelo doesn't even know what the urge is yet, which makes Wendell's question one of the most confusing ones he's been asked in his short time in the real world.

    I know that Wendell's finger poking is a gesture meant to signify sexual intercourse and that the rising arm signifies an erection. The rules regarding sexuality and conversations about sexuality are hazy, confusing. (7.87)

    What Marcelo doesn't get here is that there aren't really any definite rules (other than not hurting anyone, of course). Wendell's being crude and obnoxious, but he's not breaking the law. He's just making himself look like a jerk.

    Women are Wendell's special interest, I say to myself. (9.24)

    Sounds like a guy who needs to get another special interest. We'll be over here having soup with Jasmine and debating Keith Jarrett vs. Glenn Gould.

    "It is hard for Marcelo to look at women the way Wendell does. When I tried to see a woman the way he does, there was something that made me think of Adam and Eve when they saw each other naked and felt ashamed. Why? If sex is good, why is there shame?" (12.28)

    Ah, the question of the ages. If you have even the slightest inkling you might be hurting yourself or someone else when you have sex, you're already halfway up the apple tree with the snake.

    "Sexual intercourse is how humans procreate. The erect penis of the man goes into the vagina of the woman. I am not a child." (12.45)

    Marcelo may understand the nuances of religion, but he's got a lot to learn about the nuances of sex.

    "You want to fuck her." I hate using the word, but it is the word that most accurately describes what I think Wendell wants to do. The other alternatives like "making love" or even "sexual intercourse" do not seem precise enough. (13.39)

    What a bummer that this is Marcelo's real-world lesson in the nuances of normal-people language. Thanks, Wendell. You're a great teacher, said no one never.

    I stand there looking at the boxes. What happened? Why did I hesitate in telling Wendell I would not help do anything that may harm Jasmine? How could it be that even as I understand Wendell's views on sex, I am still pulled toward success in my father's eyes? (15.34)

    The desire for others' approval is a powerful force. It's kind of like how Arturo and Holmes are falling all over themselves for the approval of a corporation, motivated by dollar signs.

    "There's plenty of places to go whoring. Man's got a dick, he'll find a hole to put it in." (22.71)

    Amos is even cruder about sex than Wendell, but without the malice. In other words, he says really dirty stuff, but he's not trying to hurt anyone, or use it for power.

    Perhaps the comfort I feel around Jasmine is also sexual in a way I don't understand. Maybe attraction for another person is like the IM, where body and mind cannot be separated. (23.126)

    Marcelo instinctively realizes something Wendell will never get: the kind of attraction that lasts is the kind that starts in the brain.

    I realize for the first time that Jasmine and I will be sleeping side by side. I have never slept with anyone else except Yolanda, when we went to Spain, and then we each had a single bed in a hotel room. This is different somehow. It makes me nervous. (24.43)

    When Marcelo thinks about sleeping with someone, he's actually thinking about sleeping. In a way, that's more romantic than sex—especially for a guy like Marcelo.

  • Religion

    "It's not customary to quote Scripture to someone, much less quote him chapter and verse. I think that if you're going to benefit from this experience, it's important that you try to act as is customary." (5.55)

    How could such a rule-following dad end up with such a brilliantly rule-breaking son? Genetics = not always fair.

    At Paterson no one regards me with suspicion or stays away from me because I have an interest in religion. I have to remember never to talk about anything religious while I'm here. It scares people. (6.86)

    Marcelo enters the law firm trying to memorize his own set of rules: never do that, always do this. That he learns so much about nuance in a single summer is pretty remarkable.

    "Who's Rabbi Heschel? I thought you were Catholic. I've seen you pray the Rosary at your desk… when you thought no one was looking." (11.29)

    Jasmine learns something about the real world from Marcelo: people have widely varied religious beliefs and practices, and sometimes they blend religions together, which is a-okay. Not everything is so black and white.

    The parking lot is empty except for Rabbi Heschel's car, a red Volkswagen Beetle she calls Habbie, after the prophet Habakkuk, because, she says, the car, like the prophet, has been crying for years without anyone paying attention. (12.1)

    The story of Habakkuk, in brief: he saw the injustice and violence in the world and wondered why God would allow such things to happen. Sounds a bit like our narrator, no?

    "All of our inclinations, even the sexual ones, are good when we are in Eden—that is, when we walk with God and all our actions, words, and thoughts seek to follow his will. But man can choose to be separate from God, and in this separateness he creates evil by imagining ways to use what is good in ways that hurt him or others, and then acting upon what he imagines." (12.52)

    Take, for example, Arturo and Garcia. Both went into law wanting to help others, but one allowed himself to become corrupted by greed. He chose to be separate from human beings and align himself with corporations instead.

    His eyes are closed, his head is lowered, and his chin rests on his chest. I immediately recognize the posture of someone in deep prayer. The man is playing the piano, but I am certain he is also remembering. (14.97)

    "Remembering" is what Marcelo calls hearing the IM. In Keith Jarrett's case, "remembering" could mean summoning the music and musicians that came before him.

    One day Abba saw me looking at the portrait and she said, "That's Jesus' heart. It shows how he feels for us." Then she took the picture down and sat beside me on her bed. "The thorns are His sorrow for all that we suffer, and the flame is His love." (16.5)

    Here's some symbolism for you: if Ixtel had a crown of thorns, it would be made of shards of glass.

    Then I try to block out the rushing thoughts by remembering a favorite piece of Scripture, but the remembering is not focused. It has a life of its own and what it presents are lines from different parts of Scriptures, senseless and disconnected, like an inner Tower of Babel. (16.8)

    "Babel" and "babble" sound alike, which may be why Marcelo thinks of that particular Biblical reference when trying to focus his thoughts.

    Rabbi Heschel takes off her sunglasses and dangles them by the side of the chair. "I think we, and I mean all of us, every single one of us who's in the religion business, have messed things up royally." (26.52)

    Do you agree? Has the corruption of religion overtaken the benefits? Are any religions exempt?

    "I think your brain is like mine. I never knew for sure that going to seminary was what God wanted me to do. 'Sure,' I used to complain, 'to Moses you appear as a burning bush, but to me you come as a burning hemorrhoid." (26.94)

    Rabbi Heschel's perspective on modern-day miracles is both humorous and slightly pessimistic. We have a feeling Woody Allen would like her.

  • Lies and Deceit

    "After I called you on your cell phone I closed the mailroom and put up a sign. I told them I had to go to the courthouse and that the three o'clock and five o'clock would be delivered together. Patty at the reception desk can handle any packages that are delivered while we're gone." (14.49)

    Marcelo's introduction to lying—or at least, the first law-office lie he knows is a lie—is when Jasmine tells a small fib to cover for him. Not that this is any kind of practice for the other, much more devastating lies he'll encounter there.

    The boat ride. I suddenly remember it. "He wants to help me succeed at the law firm so that I can go to Paterson next year." I am not sure whether this is a lie or not. (17.26)

    Wendell's lying to Marcelo every time he opens his mouth, of course, but Marcelo doesn't understand ulterior motives because he's never had to deal with them before. In a way, they're another form of lying.

    "Anyone looking at the picture would know that it had to be connected to a Vidromek case. Nothing is thrown away on purpose, but maybe it was thrown away by accident. But you don't believe that was the case?" (17.58)

    Reading Marcelo forces us to think about the other kinds of lies besides blatant untruths. Here, he's dealing with a lie of omission, in which withholding the truth is just as damaging as outright fibbing.

    "For your information, and not that you need to know, Wendell has invited me to the boat like he has invited many others in this firm. And for your information, I know what the boat looks like, but I did not go there at Wendell's invitation. I am not into little boys." (18.18)

    What's up with Juliet? We don't even want to know what's gone on below deck on that yacht. Just name it the S.S. Misogyny and be done with it.

    I don't know why I even asked Juliet. And why did I lie when I told her that I wanted to know what the boat was like? What was it that I really wanted to know? (18.19)

    What's all this? Why does Marcelo take a strange comfort in the fact that Wendell has targeted other women and not just Jasmine?

    It has always been almost impossible for me to lie. The synapses in my brain usually travel faster than they should, but when it comes to lying, the same synapses freeze in place. I cannot think fast enough to come up with an alternative to the truth. (18.60)

    Learning to communicate is hard enough for Marcelo; learning how to purposely miscommunicate must make him want to take to his bed for days.

    "Even now, they are still making them the same dangerous way, because if they fix the problem they would be admitting there was a problem." (19.106)

    Continuing to lie after knowing the truth can cost other people their lives. That's a huge price to pay for pride.

    For a moment I do not know what she is talking about. Lying requires an incredible amount of mental effort. (20.3)

    Trying to sustain a web of lies is like trying to pull blocks out of a Jenga tower without it collapsing. Our shoulders tense up just thinking about it.

    I cannot imagine him seeing the picture of Ixtel and reading Jerry's letter and saying no. These facts stand in contrast to the father who said yes to the tree house, who said yes to Paterson, the man who likes to grab Yolanda in a headlock and pretend he is knocking on her head. (21.2)

    Does Arturo's disregard for strangers invalidate his love for his family?

    If someone asks me where I got the memo, I will have to lie—otherwise Jasmine will lose her job. (21.64)

    Unfortunately, the only lie Marcelo can tell to protect his dad's job will doom a girl to live her life in physical and emotional pain. That is quite the choice.

  • Society and Class

    "Am I glad you can help me. Father is too. He's having a shit-fit because today is the last day to turn over documents to another law firm and I have to be at an orientation meeting for the new squash players." (15.9)

    If Wendell's not the World Champion of Spoiled, he was definitely a runner-up in the competition.

    Robert Steely lives in a neighborhood where the houses are closer together than where I live. (20.23)

    Holmes's firing Steely for questioning him seems all the more heartless when we see, through Marcelo's eyes, that he's not as well off as the other attorneys in the firm. Apparently, Steely and his family are Vidromek casualties, too.

    Paterson is expensive. I have heard kids say that they are attending the school on a scholarship because their parents cannot afford to send them otherwise. Without the money Arturo earns from Vidromek, we may not be able to afford Paterson. (21.37)

    Or Yale for Yolanda, or a house with a huge yard. Yet Marcelo still decides to do the right thing, because Ixtel's suffering is greater.

    As we get closer, we see an assortment of plastic animals on the front lawn: a family of deer, two white swans (now grayish), a mother duck with six ducklings behind her (one tipped over), two rabbits kissing each other, a brown fox, a groundhog up on his hind legs, a flamingo that could have been pink at one time but is now a whitish color. (22.44)

    The only thing that makes a yard scream "lower class" more blatantly than lawn ornaments is a car on cinder blocks. Still, we think pink flamingoes are pretty awesome.

    "Amos grows hay down there for the twelve or so cows he keeps. He used to have eighty acres, but he sold fifty after Mother died to pay the doctor's bills. The hill and the eighty acres, when worked right, took care of a family of four. " (22.115)

    Living off the land through backbreaking labor is an entirely new concept to Marcelo, and it probably seems far more honest than being a lawyer at this point. Unless you're Jerry Garcia of course.

    The one I believe to be Cody is carrying a box of Bud Light. The one that I believe to be Jonah has two bags of potato chips in his hands. (23.4)

    Marcelo notices that Jasmine's neighbors are different from his without passing judgment, which allows Stork to show us class differences in a matter-of-fact way.

    "Cody, go get your fiddle while she's peeing," Samuel Shackleton says. (23.41)

    Can you even imagine what Marcelo must be thinking at this point? Stork doesn't tell us; he just shows us the scene through Marcelo's eyes and lets us use our imaginations.

    I realize that I have never seen a can of Spam. (23.55)

    We're willing to bet Marcelo's never seen white bread, Velveeta cheese, or Marshmallow Fluff either, but unlike Spam, two out of three of those things are delicious. (We'll let you decide which two.)

    "I be back. Here, I turn on the fan for you." She goes over to a tall, rusty fan in the corner and clicks a button. She waits until she hears the blades begin to rattle and then she leaves the room. Her plastic sandals make a smacking sound as she walks. (29.13)

    Meeting Sister Juana is especially profound for Mexican-American Marcelo, though Stork never comes right out and tells us that. He just shows us, through Marcelo's eyes, the details of the lives of native Spanish speakers who haven't had the Sandovals' privilege.

    "This house once was from rich family. When last daughter die, she leave it to us. Is a big house. Now some nights we have forty girls. In rich family there only four live here. Father, mother, and two daughters. And maybe five servants." She laughs. "Imagine." (29.33)

    Marcelo's house would probably look like a mansion to Sister Juana too.

  • Power

    "The corporate world has its rules. The law firm has its rules…The real world as a whole has its rules. The rules deal with behaviors and the way to do things in order to be successful." (3.40)

    If following the rules leads to success, success leads to money, and money leads to power, is it worth sacrificing independent thought and personal integrity to follow them?

    "Right. Well, when I'm around Wendell, I feel like that CD would if it could feel." (9.67)

    Sometimes just the way you look at someone can take away their power.

    "Vidromek wants me to destroy you, really. They want me to drive you into the ground with discovery and delays until you regret ever taking this on." (10.46)

    To plan from the outset to drive someone crazy with evasion and delays may be effective, but it's also straight-up, premeditated evil.

    "What we have at the law firm is kind of a balance of power between two forces. The enterprise runs smoothly so long as the power remains equally balanced." (13.79)

    The balance of power between Arturo and Holmes is not unlike a 20-year gunfight on a tightrope.

    "The bond between our fathers extends to you and me. Keeping that bond, that balance of power, is extremely important. We keep the bond by putting each other first about anyone else." (13.81)

    Of course Wendell's not willing to put Marcelo first; he just wants Marcelo to do his work while he goes and plays squash. He hasn't learned that "autistic" does not mean "stupid."

    "People hire Sandoval and Holmes when they want the meanest and the toughest. When other firms know that we are on the case, they know our client is out to win. You want to succeed here, you need to be merciless, go for the jugular." (18.33)

    Is it possible to "want the meanest and the toughest" if you're not trying to protect your ability to do something you shouldn't?

    I decide not to respond, even though Juliet is waiting for an answer. For the first time I have doubts that the meek will ever inherit or possess anything. (18.36)

    What Marcelo doesn't see is that he's taking his power back, or at least refusing to give up any more of it, in remaining silent. As anyone who's ever gotten the silent treatment knows, choosing not to speak can be a very powerful action.

    I feel Wendell's index finger on my chest and I swat it away. I have never ever in my life thought I could hit another human being, but just now I realize I can. (20.18)

    Not only does being poked in the chest really hurt, it's such a bullying, power-stealing move. It's the kind of thing you do when you don't know how to defend yourself with, you know, actual logic.

    "People will run over you if you don't show anger," Jasmine told me once. That's what I feel like now, run over. Now I know why words like "hatred" and "enemy" are used at the law firm. (20.20)

    The question is, how can anyone reach a point where they're willing to hear those words every day just to make money? How much of your soul do you have to sell?

    "You can be the kindest person in the world, a saint, but once you step into the world of defending corporations, you operate by different rules." (20.56)

    There's been a lot of recent political debate about corporations being taxed as people. But here we see an attorney saying they have to be defended differently from people. This is one of those gray areas that confuse Marcelo so much (and us, too).

  • Justice and Judgment

    "Right. So the girl was hurt by a windshield and her parents are probably suing Vidromek. That's how the picture ended up in Wendell's boxes. You know all about suing and settling a case and all that?" (17.40)

    Often lawsuits are settled out of court, which means the defendant indirectly admits fault and gives the plaintiff money to go away. It's not a great deal for either side, but it can provide immediate results for the plaintiff and save the defendant money in the long run. And if all you're after is a new face, well then it's not so bad.

    "It was like a fire. Here. And here." I touch the top of my stomach, where my rib cage ends and then the middle of my chest. "It was like I wanted to fight the people who hurt her. But then I realized that might include my father." (17.61)

    Is it right that Arturo should go down in Marcelo's flames as revenge for his heartlessness toward Ixtel, or do you agree with Arturo that he's just doing his job? Someone's gotta be a defense attorney, right?

    "I am afraid that if I talk to Arturo, he will not let me help the girl or maybe the girl will get more hurt." (17.76)

    What are the ways in which Ixtel might get more hurt? Do you think someone from the law firm is capable of hurting her directly, or will they just continue to do it indirectly by defending Vidromek?

    "Every time you decide, there is loss, no matter how you decide. It's always a question of what you cannot afford to lose." (17.102)

    What can Marcelo not afford to lose? After all, he's willing to give up Paterson to help Ixtel.

    Now that I started looking for the file, the need to find out about the girl has increased. It is as if the act of looking has confirmed the rightness of my quest. (18.40)

    It's like Jasmine says: the right note will feel right and the wrong note will feel wrong. Knowing you're doing the right thing is its own kind of Internal Music.

    Juliet said he thought too much. He questioned Stephen Holmes about what was correct. I wonder if that included what was right or wrong. (18.40)

    Although Steely doesn't admit to having seen the picture of Ixtel, he did know about the 36th box. His confronting Holmes about right and wrong might have been what caused the box to disappear.

    Robert Steely […] is the most familiar with all the Vidromek files. He is sitting now in front of me and I see this now as a sign. Will he help me? Will he help Ixtel? The question is, do I have the skill to improvise? (20.33)

    Keith Jarrett may not be Glenn Gould, but he's definitely taught Marcelo that there's something more important than following the rules.

    Deep inside of me I hope to find a way to persuade him that helping Ixtel is something he should do, we should all do. But right now I don't even know how real that hope is. (20.65)

    As Arturo's lies compound, Marcelo loses more and more faith in his dad's ability to do the right thing. No amount of tree houses and horses can make up for that kind of loss.

    "What is in here is bad, as far as Vidromek is concerned. If it's made public, Vidromek will have a very difficult time proving they were not at fault. Then there's what this may do to the firm." (21.32)

    Was it a form of lying for the firm to make the 36th box disappear, or were they just playing by the rules of defending a corporate client?

    But I can do justice for Ixtel. (26.119)

    You go, Marcelo. Spoken like a true Catholic Buddhist Jew.