Study Guide

James Semprevivo, a.k.a. Jimmi Sixes in The Orange Houses

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James Semprevivo, a.k.a. Jimmi Sixes

War veteran, drug addict, and wanderer—yeah, Jimmi Sixes has had it rough. He's already seen a little girl blown up by a bomb, lost his own child, and suffered through his lover killing herself. And he's only eighteen. How does he cope? He turns to poetry.

Poet and He Knows It

Jimmi is constantly writing poems on anything he can find—walls, the cave, and even his arm. He thinks of a phrase and jots it down before he even knows what it means. Take the poem he writes on his arm:


Something tells us you wouldn't have fallen asleep in poetry class if you had riddles like this to muse over. Jimmi's poems all touch on life, existence, and consciousness in some way or another. The thing about Jimmi's poems, though, is that he never explains them. He just writes them down and leaves. So what is the "essence of the is"? That's for you to decide, Shmoopers.

Take another poem he writes: "A man from sands, forsaken plans, no bonds of bands, the Devil's hands?" (pre.4). We don't need a crash course on poetry to know that he's questioning whether there's a god or demonic power behind his life. He's not sure what it amounts to, but he thinks it could be worth exploring… And yet he never goes beyond the poem. It's as though we—the audience—are meant to think about this more, to come up with our own meaning while Jimmi's exploration fizzles out.

Love and Other Drugs

One of the reasons Jimmi's poems are so scattered and random is because he's addicted to drugs. He claims, "I just wanna be someplace bright and clean" (37.17), but he has a tough time staying that way. We know the guy's been through a lot, so we feel for him, but we also want him to get off drugs and into a more regular life so he can start to deal with it.

In the beginning, he really tries to quit the habit:

He dumped his many antipsychotic meds into the toilet, grabbed his oversized skateboard and poetry slam notebooks and did a swan dive out the second-story window. A forward flip later he landed in a Dumpster soupy with wet cardboard and kitchen garbage. (4.9)

When Jimmi flushes his drugs in the toilet, we believe him that he wants to quit. The only problem? We're not sure he believes himself. He gets rid of the goods, but then he doesn't do anything else to help himself out. Just like with his poetry, the effort is only partly there.

Life Actually

Jimmi's drug-fueled poetry and half-comatose state always bring out the, shall we say, ponderous side of our vet. He's always musing about the meaning of life, hung up on purpose and value and all those big questions.

From the first time we meet him, he's asking big, million-dollar questions about life— "Jimmi Sixes was on a mission. He had to know: Was life worth living?" (4.8). We couldn't have put Jimmi's inner struggle better ourselves. The guy is in a lot of emotional pain and dealing with depression, but his plight goes way beyond suffering. He's searching for answers to life's big questions.

Which leaves us with one question: Does Jimmi find the answers he's looking for? He has a moment when he wants to live while the mob is attacking him, but do you think it sticks? Or is Jimmi too far gone to invest in being alive?

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