And sometimes the girl holding one end of the rope is from the West side of Hector, and the girl on the other end is from the East side; and if you're looking for Maniac Magee's legacy, or monument, that's as good as any - even if it wasn't really a bull.
This quote is incredibly important but hidden in the preface when the reader will not yet understand its meaning. Hector Street is the divide between the black and white sections of Two Mills, and a black girl and a white girl holding a jumping rope across this space is something not thought possible during the time Jeffery roamed those streets. However, in this preface we see that his legacy of acceptance really did affect Two Mills, demonstrating the power one person can have on a community if they open up communication between races.
It was the day of the worms. That first almost-warm, after-the-rainy-night day in April, when you bolt from your house to find yourself in a world of worms. They were as numerous here in the East End as they had been in the West. The sidewalks, the streets. The very places where they didn't belong. Forlorn, marooned on concrete and asphalt, no place to burrow, April's orphans.
This quote is iconic of Spinelli's imagery-laden writing style. Not only that, it calls attention to two of Spinelli's main themes: race (and the fact that people and lives in West End and East End of Two Mills are quite the same) and homelessness (through the words "belong," "marooned," and "orphans").
And yet he held back. Oh, he prodded and persuaded and inspired and bribed the boys to do right, but he never forced them, never commanded, never shouted. Because to do so would be parental, and he was not yet ready for that. How could he act as a father to these boys when he himself aches to be somebody's son?
This quote, thought by Maniac of Piper and Russell McNab, reminds the reader of two things. First, that Maniac, though he may act it, is not so mature and independent. Second, the use of the word "somebody's" underscores just how alone and confused Maniac feels; he does not know whose son he wants to be, or part of whose family, but only that a family, particularly parents, is what he needs.
Maniac kept trying, but he still couldn’t see it, this color business. He didn’t figure he was white any more than the East Enders were black. He looked himself over pretty hard and came up with at least seven different shades and colors right on his own skin, not one of them being what he would call white (except for his eyeballs, which weren’t any whiter than the eyeballs of the kids in the East End).
Maniac is blind in some ways and sees better than even adults in other ways. Though he cannot see the way people feel about him, he has a great propensity for not generalizing an entire race from one group. Instead of seeing the people of East End simply as "black" he sees them as a great variety of colors with unique identities and personalities. In the same way, he does not see himself or all white people as "white," seeing everyone as part of a spectrum of colors.
But that's okay, because the history of a kid is one part fact, two parts legend, and three parts snowball. And if you want to know what it was like back when Maniac Magee roamed these part, well, just run you're hand under your movie seat and be very, very careful not to let the facts get mixed up with the truth.
This quote speaks to the theme of myth versus history, setting up the entire story of "Maniac" Magee. Here, the narrator warns the reader that what they read may be as unreliable as the perceptions of the many who met Maniac, but that reading this myth may be even more interesting than reading the real story, so long as one recognizes what one's getting.
Inside his house, a kid gets one name, but on the other side of the door, it’s whatever the rest of the world wants to call him.
Mrs. Beale speaks in this quote about the theme of names and nicknames. While she promises to call him Jeffery, she recognizes that others refer to him as Maniac for various positive and negative reasons and that is how he will continue to be called throughout Two Mills. Reading deeper, her advice in this quote is to know your true self but understand that people will not always be interested in getting to know that self, preferring the myth or version they create.
With a ball in his hand, the park handyman became a professor.
This quote, referring to Earl Grayson opening up about his time as a pitcher, again teaches the reader that what you see on the outside is not always the truth of the matter. Even though Grayson is illiterate - he cannot read or write - Spinelli still describes him (through the eyes of Jeffery) as a professor in his own right.
Remembering how little Grayson had known about black people and black homes. Thinking of the McNabs' wrong-headed notions. Think of Mars Bar's knee-jerk reaction to anyone wearing a white skin. And thinking: Naturally. WHat else would you expect? Whites never go inside blacks' homes. Much less inside their thoughts and feelings. And blacks are just as ignorant of whites. What white kid could hate blacks after spending five minutes in the Beales' house? And what black kid could hate whites after answering Mrs. Pickwell's dinner whistle. But the East Enders stayed in the east and the West Enders stayed in the west, and the less they knew about each other, the more they invented.
In this quote, Jeffery thinks emphatically about how segregation perpetuates racism. He sees that many people that he likes do not like or understand people of other races because they assume they will be different from themselves, when truly they are much more similar than they would think. Jeffery thinks back on the homes he has attempted to create with welcoming families both black and white and the chance he has had to see issues of race from both sides. This passage suggests that more interaction between races would go far to diminish racism, perhaps especially in Northern, urban areas.
The story he told now was not about baseball. It was about parents who were drunk a lot and always leaving him on his own; about being put in classes where they just cut paper and played games all day; about a teacher who whispered to a principal, just outside the classroom door, "This bunch will never learn to read a stop sign." Right then and there, as if to make the teacher right, he stopped trying.
Once Grayson begins to trust Jeffery, he begins to open up about things other than baseball, including the troubled childhood that led to his illiteracy so late in life. A very pressing problem in the United States, often children in adverse situations do not receive proper education, with teachers and school districts all but giving up on them as "lost causes." Though Grayson got to have a stint in the Minor League, his lack of proper education prevented him from getting a job above the level of menial labor after quitting his sports career.
During the days, he ran, usually a slow job. But sometimes he would suddenly sprint, furious ten- or twenty-second bursts, as though trying to leave himself behind.
After Grayson's death, as at many times in the story, Maniac takes up running for hours and even days at a time. Spinelli directly says in this quote that Maniac is attempting to run away from his problems, and perhaps he chooses running because one of his main anxieties is not having a permanent place that he belongs. In this passage, Spinelli says next that the routes Jeffery runs would look as tangled as Cobble's Knot, representing how tangled Jeffery's thoughts and feelings remain in spite of all this running.
Maniac Magee Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Maniac Magee is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.