Parrot in the Oven Student Reading Responses

Versions of Responses for Question 10 about Parrot in the Oven.

10."This room was what my mother spent so much energy cleaning and keeping together, and what my father spent so much energy tearing apart. And it was wondrous, like a place I was meant to be. A place, I felt, that I had come back to after a long journey of being away. My home" (215).

This is an important part of the story. Obviously it’s the end. But so much of Manny’s "notbelonglingness" has led us to this point. At different times we as readers see him struggle to identify a place where he belonged. It wasn’t in the fields because even there you had to act as if you belonged" (18). It wasn’t on the streets with Eddie because there guys were too "screwed up" and "confused" to know what was going on, and it wasn’t at Dorothy’s house and with her white friends because they very quickly made him know he was out of place (180). In that room, that wondrous room, Manny realizes it is where he belongs. His father’s anger and alcoholism (maybe not officially) and his mother’s callouses and his sister’s confusion were where he belonged: it was his home. From the beginning of the book to the end we followed Manny on his journey from just pretending to belong, and not being sure, to knowing it and feeling it and loving it.

Manny travels the rough road of enlightenment throughout the novel. He matures by avoiding temptation and discovering what is important to him. Along his journey his trusting parrot self is sacrificed. Manny acknowledges this death when he sees his reflection as "someone ghostly and strange" at Dorothy’s party (200). However he goes on trusting after the party, but now he questions his actions. He hopes Frankie will call him away from Eddie’s side (206). After his brush with the law courtesy of Eddie, Manny returns home and has the insight that his family is very important to him. He needs them just as his parents need each other to give meaning and purpose to his life. His mother spends so much time cleaning what his father tearing apart (215). The living room Manny enters embodies this circular pattern. This pattern is at the center of what makes him who his is. Manny realizes this when he states that he feels like he just returned from a long journey.

At the beginning of the story, Manny is by turns embarrassed and frightened by his family. The potential for shame and violence always simmers beneath the surface, ready to explode as if from nowhere. But Manny’s false starts toward adult life (the unsupervised party, the gang initiation, the failed work experiences) finally lead him to realize that he can’t make a journey to adulthood without a place to start from. Part of the journey Manny makes in the book is a coming to terms with his own family–that despite their endless quarrels, his mother and father love each other and they love him. Before, he couldn’t see past the poverty, alcoholism, and endless squabbling, but at the end he can look at the living room of the house and feel love for his sister–and, more importantly, see a place where he belongs and can begin his journey. Read adulthood starts from home.

This passage encapsulates the story and brings Manny’s experience, or journey to a poignant close. His parents have been polar opposites, by dealing with their frustrations over their world in opposing ways, his mother’s cleaning and scrubbing her worries away, his father boozing and kicking them into more confusion. Yet Manny knows a home is a home. Although he has been tempted every which way to abandon his setting as the result of his family’s misfortune, he realizes that the setting, i.e., his house, the projects, his family, is his comfort, his reality. This contrasts with episodes such as Dorothy’s party, the ride home, with Mr. Hart, and the boxing circuit, all of which lure Manny with the possibility of other worlds, other classes, other spheres of self-awareness. Yet Manny’s identity seems for him to be noted in his family, his house, which despite all the trials and despair, are collectively as strong as a nucleus as that on which all the other characters rest.

The most meaningful segment of this passage from Parrot in the Oven is the last sentence, "My home." Throughout the novel, Manny searches for his place within his family, his home. He discovers that the world around him is in a constant state of denial and violent insanity. His neighborhood is inhabited by wild, chimpanzee-like, mutant hoodlums and his family seeks refuge from responsibilty, his mother obsesses over Tony Curtis movies, his father slips into drunken stupors, and his sister Magda blocks out reality with her music. His home life explodes in a nightmarish frenzy in "The Bullet," but Manny doesn’t wake up to the violence that he himself is capable of until he fires his father’s rifle almost killing his baby sister, Pedi. As the novel progresses, Manny’s world grows more and more violent. The violence spirals from the outside bong ring of his circle of friends into the hospital with his older sister’s nightmarish miscarriage until it finally surrounds him as he stands alone in Dorothy’s backyard, shivering–waiting to be punched like a pinata dangling from a tree. It is here, completely out of his element, that Manny realizes how far he has run away from where he belongs, "I saw the reflection of a ridiculous boy, a clumsy boy. It was me, looking at myself, except that it wasn’t me, but someone ghostly and strange" (181). Before returning home to what he knows will be expecting him, Manny tries to find a new family with Mondo’s gang but their violence is far worse and defies sense so Manny decides to return home. Upon his return, Manny finds his place. As he relaxes in his father’s recliner; he realizes that he is not the same boy he was when he left, "I knew, as my eyes got drowsy and the bright walls of the room glowed around me, that I’d never again see anything so wondrous as my two sisters lying on the couch" (215). He realizes that his childhood is gone, and it is his responsibility to pull the fragmented pieces of his life together and reshape them into his home.