Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 660

As does much of Paulsen's fiction for young adults, The Crossing features a young, male protagonist who forms an unlikely bond with an adult male deeply and adversely affected by war. Highlighting their interdependence, this relationship finally helps both characters to be physically or emotionally free. Other recurring themes in Paulsen's fiction are physical survival, respect for the natural world, humanity, individuality, and acceptance of death.

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The fast-paced action-adventure aspect of the story is tempered by a third-person narrative which reveals Manny's and Robert's thoughts and feelings throughout. Violence, destruction, and man's capacity for inhumanity are portrayed as reflections of the "real" world, ever at odds with the characters' instinct for what could be: a serene, harmonious existence from cradle to grave.

In their separate lives, neither Manny nor Robert knows serenity. This does not prevent either, though, from dreaming of, or wanting, that peace. It is easier, perhaps, to sympathize with Manny's character than with Robert's; Manny is, after all, a classic victim, oppressed and impoverished by forces beyond his control. Robert's character is more complex, less easily understood. At a glimpse, he seems to have privileges, choices, and personal freedoms Manny can only envy; closer inspection, however, reveals that Robert's torment is as oppressive and incapacitating as Manny's own. Regardless of the source of the shackles each believes he wears, there are pronounced differences between these two characters in their responses to pain and hardship. Manny endures, believing he can begin again. Robert ends his pain in death, so that Manny might live.

We first meet Manny when the blistering heat of a new day calls him from his cardboard lean-to and his ceaseless quest for food begins. This day he resolves to "cross to the north to the United States and find work, become a man, make money, and wear a leather belt with a large buckle and a straw hat with a feathered hatband." The novel closes with Manny running in the dark for the river and The Crossing . Paulsen portrays Manny as a resourceful, street-smart fourteen-year-old wholly without self-pity, but who is in constant danger. His natural good looks— red hair, large eyes, and long lashes mean—make him more valuable to "the men who would take him and sell him to those men who wanted to buy fourteen year old street boys." Because he is small, Manny must also beware of the bigger boys who live as he does, and who will take what food or money he is able to find, beg, or...

(The entire section contains 660 words.)

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