Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Summary and Analysis of Sparrows Falling From the Sky


The morning after they bury the sparrow, Ari gets an extremely severe fever and becomes a bit unaware of his surroundings until the fever breaks after about three or four days. During his fever, he has very bad, very graphic dreams where he sees sparrows falling from the sky and see Dante holding Richie Valens’ body in his arms. He’s not really awake, but he remembers that he was screaming and that his parents were crying. At some point, his father rocks him in his arms while Ari was trembling from the fever. After the fever breaks, Ari looks at his parents, both in the room with him and sitting close by, and wishes it could be like this forever. When his mother leaves to get something from the other room, his father comments that during the fever, Ari was looking for him. Ari replies that he is always looking for him.

When he wakes up the next morning, Ari thinks he might have died, but his mother’s insistence on feeding him and making him drink enormous amounts of water quickly prove that that’s alive. Ari’s dad apologizes to Ari for being distant with him and tells him that he also has nightmares. Ari wants more details but is happy that his dad shared that much. In order to continue to keep Ari in the house, his mother lets him watch television, but Ari discovers that he doesn’t actually like television that much, after all. He asks his mother about being a teacher and teaching other kids his age but evades the question when she asks if he’s jealous. Ari continues to try and push back against her limitations on him, but she confesses that she’s worried about him, and when pressed, his mom accidentally reveals that it’s because he doesn’t have any friends. Ari is taken aback but retorts that he doesn’t want any friends. There is some tension, but Ari jokes and breaks it, then asks if he can invite Dante over.

Dante is initially angry when Ari calls, since Ari hasn’t been to the pool for four days without notice, but when he hears why he comes straight over in ripped jeans and no shoes with sketch materials in hand. He offers to sketch Ari while Ari reads poetry. After they’re done, Dante refuses to show Ari any of the drawings of him, but gives Ari a drawing of his rocking chair. The sketch is both very technically good and emotionally resonant. Ari tells Dante that the chair seems sad and lonely, and is frustrated that Dante can see through him so easily. That night, he dreams of trying to talk to his brother, but they can’t seem to communicate. He wakes up, then falls asleep again, only to dream of sparrows falling from the sky.

Dante continues to come over to visit. Ari asks why he isn’t scared of anything, but Dante argues that he is scared of many things. Even after the fever leaves, the dreams continue. Ari uses them as a reason to continue to try and pinpoint the thing that makes his life awful. He knows he’s not a boy anymore, but he still feels like a boy, even though he’s never felt right in his own body. Sometimes, he thinks the problem might be that his sisters view him as “born too late.” Once, when he was younger, he cussed at them for suggesting that, and while he got punished for it, they didn’t say that in front of him anymore. But even though he likes his sisters, he feels like they treat more like a son than a brother—and he doesn’t need three mothers. He feels fundamentally alone, and his name proves that everyone just expects things from him that he can’t give.

In the middle of these thoughts, Dante calls. Ari shares that he was thinking about his older sisters and Dante argues that it’s cool to have siblings, nieces, and nephews. Ari discloses that he also has an older brother who’s in prison, but refuses to elaborate. In contrast, Dante is an only child. He feels alienated from his family because both his father’s and mother’s sides of the family are lower-income and closer to Mexican culture than Dante is. Despite the fact that Dante has cousins, he doesn’t really feel like he belongs among them or their world, which is a shock to Ari, who has always felt that Dante could fit in anywhere. Both his mom and dad made a conscious effort to leave their lives behind before they met while in Berkeley, building a new world for themselves, a world that Dante lives in now. But while they understand both where they come from and where they are now, Dante only understands the world they’ve built. The conversation inspires Ari to ask a little bit more about his own family situation. He discovers that he was born as his mom was finally finishing her bachelor’s degree so she could teach, and that he was born in the happiness of that success and of finding out that his father was safe. Ari mutters that he still doesn’t understand his dad, but his mom insists that he will someday.

Ari keeps thinking about the stuff in his family life that might have made him so weird when he starts flipping through his journal. He opens to a section where he talks about feeling incredibly awkward at 15, and how he hasn’t been happy with himself in a long time, as his body and his voice keep changing. The current Ari, however, thinks that this past version of himself sounds ridiculous. Continuing to look through the journal, he discovers a passage about his brother and wonders if he’ll ever get the courage to talk to his parents about it. He then sits down and writes some of his current struggles in the journal, including feeling distant from his family and feeling like Dante doesn’t know the whole truth about him.

Ari and his mother go to check in with the doctor, who tells them Ari is still recovering from the flu. Optimistic, Ari goes to the swimming pool but doesn’t have the strength to do much besides watch Dante swim. They have a conversation, then walk home in the pouring rain since Ari is too tired to run, and when they get home, Dante’s father is frustrated with them but gives them dry clothes. As they’re going outside, Dante turns to Ari and tells him that his father has accepted a temporary position at the University of Chicago, meaning that he will be moving for the next school year. While Ari is processing this news, Dante spots a sparrow with a broken wing in the middle of the street and goes to rescue it. In picking it up, he doesn’t see the car coming around the corner—Ari rushes to him, and they both get hit.


Ari's dreams are important examples of symbolism—in this section in particular, but also throughout the novel. The image of sparrows falling from the sky represents a general loss of hope and innocence, and specifically in regards to Dante; this foreshadows how, at the end of the section, Ari learns that Dante will be moving to Chicago for the academic year. These dreams also reflect the situation with his father. Ari falling very ill tells the reader a lot about his family dynamics. First and foremost, Ari's parents love him a lot, and though the retelling is distorted because of the fact that it's in the first person, it's clear that they are both very worried and that they never leave his side. Although his father is not normally open to affection, he cradles Ari in his arms several times throughout this illness, and the intimacy between the three of them is so strong that Ari wishes that it could stay like that forever. One of his greatest wishes is for him, his mother, and his father to have an easy intimacy, something he feels is prevented by his father's distance, which is why he tells his father that he is "always looking for him."

Ari's recovery is the true test of their friendship. His mother's revelation that she's worried about Ari's ability to make friends is alleviated by how well Ari and Dante get along and how devoted Dante is to Ari, insisting on coming over to see him every day. Ari spends a lot of time in contemplation after his illness, thinking about how messed up his life is. Ari is dissatisfied with himself—and, we are coming to realize, that's what the real issue is, that Ari is dissatisfied with himself, not with his life—and turns again to his birth order as a possible cause. He doesn't bear resentment towards his sisters, but instead uses them as evidence for the conclusion that he's drawn about himself. Even though he's only fifteen, Ari is extremely hard on himself and believes he has let everyone down.

In talking about family, Dante elaborates on his family situation, which has put him in an awkward position where he has a lot of privileges but not a lot of connections to other people. It's a time where we realize that Ari as a narrator is deeply biased by his own affection for Dante: because Ari likes Dante and feels that Dante is worldly, Ari assumes that Dante can fit in pretty much anywhere. But in some ways, Dante is even more isolated than Ari, who at least feels connected to his Mexican identity and to El Paso as a place. In this situation, Dante and his openness again encourage Ari to get more information about his parents and their lives, this time from his mother. What he discovers is that instead of him being a child that was born "too late," he was a child born in a time of immense happiness.

This doesn't prevent Ari from turning things over in his head, though, and looking back at his journal is a way to do that. Ari's discomfort with himself extends to his journal entries too, and he's particularly annoyed to read his thoughts about how his body is changing. Sadly, Ari often struggles to be kind to himself and rather than look at the journal as the musings of someone who was naturally curious about what was happening in their life as well as frustrated with their situation, Ari chooses to be harsh. But at the same time, his journal acts as a refuge for him to express himself, something he finds difficult to do with others.

The night that Ari and Dante get hit by the car, Ari's world has already significantly shifted. Dante telling Ari that he is going to Chicago for the year is juxtaposed against the car accident: one is mental and one is physical, but both are extreme shocks to Ari's system. It is also significant that Dante is trying to save a sparrow when he steps into the way of the car. Ari's dreams about the dying sparrows become prophetic as a sparrow causes Dante to have a brush with death. Ari's sharp instincts and loyalty show up in how quickly he moves to protect Dante; for Ari, saving Dante's life is something he doesn't even need to think about.