In Maniac Magee, why did the pillbox bother Maniac so much?

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The "pillbox" makes its appearance in chapter 39. Maniac discovers that the McNabs are building something that they call the "pillbox" in their house. It's a fortress or bunker of sorts. The plan is to fortify it against the "rebels." The rebels, as Maniac discovers, are the black people from...

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The "pillbox" makes its appearance in chapter 39. Maniac discovers that the McNabs are building something that they call the "pillbox" in their house. It's a fortress or bunker of sorts. The plan is to fortify it against the "rebels." The rebels, as Maniac discovers, are the black people from East End.

Once it was done, they'd be ready. Let the revolt begin. Let the "rebels," as they called the East Enders, come. Let'em bust through the newly installed bars over the plywood on the windows. Let 'em bust through the steel door. They'll find themselves staring down the barrel of a little surprise. They squabbled over what the surprise should be. Uzi. AK-47. Bazooka.

The McNabs legitimately believe that the black people are going to come in and attack them, and the likely attack is to come during the summer time.

John shrugged. "Ya never know. Maybe this summer." He jumped up, grabbed a beer from the fridge, flipped it open. "They like to revolt in the summer. Makes 'em itchy. They like to overrun the cities. This time we'll be ready."

Maniac is appalled and disgusted by their thoughts and actions, and he runs out of there as fast as he can.

Now there was something else in that house, and it smelled worse than garbage and turds.

Maniac is really bothered by the pillbox because it is a physical representation of racism. The McNabs actually believe that people like Amanda are plotting violent actions against white people, and Maniac knows this to be ridiculously far from the truth. The McNabs even play make-believe war games in the pillbox and take turns playing as the black people that are intended to be killed someday.

Then Russell called: "Let's play Rebels! Whites in the pillbox, blacks outside."

A cheer went up, and a dozen kids stampeded into the pillbox. Their gabble circled the cinder-block walls and popped from the gunnery slots.

"I'm gonna be white!"

"I’m white!"

"Me, too!"

"Too many in here! We need more blacks!"

"Not me!"

"Not me!"

"We ain't got enough guns! Only the ones with the guns are in! The resta ya, get out! Yer black!"

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The pillbox in Chapter 39 of Maniac Magee bothers Maniac so much because it is a symbol of racism.  He finds out that the Cobras are building the pillbox because they think that they will need to fight the black people from the East End.  Because Maniac knows many of the black people, the Cobras’ racism bothers him deeply.

Remember that by this time in the book, Maniac has spent a lot of time living in the East End with the African Americans who live there.  While he was driven out of the East End, there are many African Americans who were his friends and he knows to see blacks as individuals.  By contrast, the Cobras do not see the African Americans as regular people.  They see them as a threat to be defended against.  They believe that the African Americans are “today’s Indians” and are “bloodthirsty for whites.”  Maniac cannot take being around people who feel like this.  He hates racism because he has gotten to know the African Americans in the East End.  Therefore, “there was no room (in the McNabs’ house) that Maniac could stand in the middle of and feel clean.”  The racism that was demonstrated by the building of the pillbox disgusted and bothered him.

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