What is the What

What is the What Quotes and Analysis

"You're from Africa, right?"

I nod.

"All right then. That means we're brothers."

I am unwilling to agree.

"And because we're brothers and all, I'll teach you a lesson. Don't you know you shouldn't open your door to strangers?"

Powder and Valentino, p. 5

It is ironic that Powder is giving Valentino this advice because Powder is currently in the process of robbing Valentino's home. However, Powder feels some remorse because he knows that Valentino did not know better than to open the door to a helpless woman. Powder knows Valentino is the perfect target, but he still feels bad for his actions.

"So the first man lifted his head to God and asked what this was, this What. 'What is the What?' the first man asked. And God said to the man, 'I cannot tell you. Still you have to choose. You have to choose between the cattle and the What.'"

Deng Arou, p. 62

This Dinka creation story is important because it sets up the Dinka to be the innocent victims while the Muslims are shown to be the impulsive people group. For many Dinka, it parallels the war because it proves to them that the Muslims only began the war in order to steal their land because they made the wrong choice during creation.

This boy thinks I am not of his species, that I am some other kind of creature, one that can be crushed under the weight of a phone book.

Valentino, p. 52

When Michael drops a phone book on Valentino's head, it is symbolic of how Michael does not see Valentino as human. Even though he is an American child who has never been through the hardships that Valentino has, he sees himself as superior. He treats Valentino as less than human and does not want to be bothered with his presence.

But without William K, I would have forgotten that I had not been born on this journey. That I had lived before this.

Valentino, p. 178

After being through such a harrowing experience, it is difficult for Valentino to remember that he had a family and a life before he became a Lost Boy. It feels like he had to grow up quickly and learn a new way of life just to survive the constant running and hunger. But Eggers tries to make the reader remember that Valentino and the other boys were still children when they went through this ordeal.

No one is waiting to hear the kicking of a man above. It is unexpected. You have no ears for someone like me.

Valentino, p. 142

Valentino is discussing how it became trendy for Christians to care about the slave trade in Africa and that many people suddenly started to care about the issue. But Valentino was in his apartment, beating on the walls, and none of his Christian neighbors came to help him. He makes this comparison because he feels like Americans only offer aid when they become interested in a cause, not when people actually need it.

I looked at the land. It looked exactly like the other side of the river, the side that was Sudan, the side we left. There were no homes. There were no medical facilities. No food. No water for drinking....already there were Sudanese adults spread out across the fields, refugees who had arrived before us, lying on the ground, sick and dying. This was not the Ethiopia we had walked for. I was sure we had farther to go.

Valentino, p. 227

For the first part of Valentino's journey, he has been promised that Ethiopia will be a place of safety and refuge. It is sometimes the only thing that keeps him going whenever he feels like giving up. But crossing over the border and into Ethiopia was the biggest letdown of his life. Rather than being flush with houses and food and medical facilities, the landscape was an extension of the war-torn Sudan he just left.

The Sudanese in America are considered celebrities in Kakuma, and are presumed to possess indescribable wealth.

Valentino, p. 245

It is ironic to Valentino that he is considered a wealthy celebrity. While his wealth is considerably better than his situation in African, he still struggles daily in order to provide for himself. He also deals with racism and people barring him from going farther in life due to his lack of education. Valentino knows that his wealth and status is all relative. While he has more belongings in America, it does not mean that he is happy.

"The white man is a close descendant of Adam and Even, you see. You have seen pictures of Jesus in your books, have you not? Adam and Eve and Jesus and God all have such skin. They are fragile, their skin burning in the sun, because they are closer to the status of angels. Angels would burn in a similar way if placed on earth."

the priest in the Pinyudo refugee camp, p. 282

This line of thinking shows how pervasive white Christian mythology is in places with dark-skinned individuals. Because the priest has seen pictures of Jesus and God which were painted by white men in their own image, he believes that Jesus and God must be white themselves. He then elevates white people to a higher, holier status because they have similar skin. This myth was created and perpetuated by racism that praises white people while actively demonizing black people for being less pure and holy.

Garang raised his hands triumphantly and the adults, the women in particular, whipped themselves into a furor. The women ululated and raised their arms and closed their eyes. We turned and the adults and trainees were dancing, waving their arms wildly. More songs were sung for his approval.

Valentino, p. 321

This scene shows how the SPLA began recruiting members. They used patriotism and propaganda in order to incite young boys to join their cause. They left out how the boys could die or how sick they would become. Using this type of rhetoric is commonplace during wartime in order to drum up support for the military because songs and patriotic feelings cause people to forget how terrible war is.

I will tell stories to people who will listen and to people who don't want to listen. All the while I will know that you are there. How can I pretend that you do not exist? It would be almost as impossible as you pretending that I do not exist.

Valentino, p. 535

Valentino vowing to tell his story is important because it harkens to the idea that telling people of his life is the only way to get people to realize the atrocities happening in Africa. He knows that America has long ignored the suffering of innocents in other nations, and he does not want Americans to forget or ignore what happened to him.