Maniac Magee

Maniac Magee Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Knots (Symbol/Motif)

Cobble's Knot is a nearly insurmountable challenge - in reality, a giant knot outside of the pizza parlor that nobody has been able to undo. Amanda Beale suggests that Jeffery attempt to untangle this knot since one way he has already integrated himself with the community of East End is undoing the tangled knots on black children's shoes. Jeffery succeeds with a "slow and steady" approach to Cobble's Knot, provoking much celebration in East End. Later, Spinelli compares the paths that Jeffery runs through Two Mills to a knot as tangled as Cobble's Knot, calling attention to the tangles in Jeffery's mind and feelings.

Running (Motif)

One of the fundamental parts of Maniac's legacy is his running day and night, all over Two Mills. Spinelli uses this running not only as a means to build Maniac's notoriety, but also as a demonstration of his mental state. Following Grayson's death, Spinelli writes of Jeffery, "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" (112). Spinelli directly says in this quote that Maniac attempts to run away from his problems, and perhaps he chooses running because one of his main anxieties is not having a single place where he belongs. The times that Maniac runs often signal that he is feeling an extreme emotional push away from a place, often because he realizes he does not belong there. This contrasts with his walking away from the Beale home and out of East End, a reasoned rather than emotional move done for the good of the Beales rather than himself.

The Children's Crusade (Symbol)

When Jeffery first meets Amanda Beale, he asks her for a book. Though she is hesitant, she gives him a book about the Children's Crusade. The Children's Crusade was a crusade by European Christians to expel Muslims from the Holy Land, said to have taken place in 1212. This tale parallels in some ways the plight of Jeffery and of the United States in Maniac Magee in that people are discriminated against for their identity, origin, or look.

Addresses (Motif)

At multiple points in the story, Jeffery focuses on the addresses of the houses he inhabits and on his own lack of an address, symbolizing his lack of a home, family, and sense of belonging. Two major examples of this stand out from the story. The first is when, on his first night at the Beale home, he looks outside the door at their address before saying goodnight and going to sleep, contented by what he saw. The second is when, on Thanksgiving, Jeffery paints the numbers "101" on the outside of the band shell, giving a solidity to the home he and Grayson have created there. Addresses also play the secondary role of emphasizing the importance of knowing where you live and belong in a segregated city. One example of this use of addresses comes when Grayson tries to scratch the dirt off Jeffery's skin to reveal the skin's color after hearing the address he provides as his home (the Beale's address on Sycamore).

The Little Engine That Could (Symbol)

Another book used as a symbol in Maniac Magee is The Little Engine That Could, the first complete book Earl Grayson ever reads. This is a children's book about perseverance. The use of this book shows how hard Jeffery and Grayson had to work to allow Grayson this achievement at his age and after nobody else believed in him.