What was the author's purpose for writing Maniac Magee?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is an extremely enjoyable story that focuses on the life of the protagonist, the eponymous hero of the novel, Jeffrey Lionel "Maniac" Magee, who, in spite of various problems in his life, manages to accomplish almost mythical feats and have a massive impact on the people around him. However, when the author's purpose is considered, it could be viewed that Spinelli is trying to accomplish something more than merely recording the feats of an extraordinary young man. This can be seen through the way in which the city in which Maniac Magee settles is strictly segregated between blacks and whites. On the one hand, Spinelli seems to defy expectations of his readers by making the Beale family far more loving, sympathetic and caring than the white family that Maniac Magee is a part of for a while. However, the overwhelming message of the novel seems to focus on the similarities between blacks and whites rather than the differences. Thanks to Magee's habit of jogging everywhere at night, he is able to see both sides of the city, black and white, together, and this results in the following reflection:

...black and white would only begin when alarm clocks rang... before sunrise, there were no divisions; no barriers. There were only the people, the families, the town.

Note how the quote focuses on "the people, the families, the town," rather than identifying the racial split that occurs so sadly during the day. This novel then could be argued to be a plea for racial tolerance. Maniac Magee is a young man who is shown to be colour blind in his dealings with people, and as a result, he is able to have massively meaningful relationships with those around him. The challenge to the reader is to be similarly colour blind.

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