Marcelo in the Real World

Questions for Discussion
by Francisco Stork

  1. In describing the Internal music (IM), Marcelo says: “the music is not heard with the ears.” What are some of the way that Marcelo describes the IM? Why is it so hard for him to describe it? Marcelo tells Dr. Malone that the IM is always there when he looks for it. What happens to Marcelo’s ability to hear the IM as the summer progresses? What do you think is the relationship between Marcelo’s ability to hear music and his religious faith?
  2. Can you list some of the reasons why Marcelo does not want to attend a regular high school? What is it about Paterson that he likes? Why does his father want him to attend Oak Ridge High the following fall? Where does Aurora stand on the Paterson versus Oak Ridge debate?
  3. What kind of relationship does Marcelo have with his father? Aurora asks Marcelo if he trusts his father. How does Marcelo trust his father and what happened to this trust as the summer developed? Do you think Marcelo’s trust for his father is different than his trust for his mother? Marcelo says that trust is one of those abstract words that is hard for him to understand. Can you point to concrete instances where Marcelo’s ability to trust is challenged?
  4. What are some of the rules of the real world that Marcelo finds difficult? Arturo tells Marcelo that the rules of the real world deal with the way to do things in order to be successful. Do you agree that to be successful you need to follow the rules of the real world? What are some of the rules of the real world that you believe are wrong? Do you agree with Arturo that the mailroom of the law firm is more “real” than Paterson?
  5. Marcelo tells Aurora before he starts his summer job at the law firm: “suffering and death do not affect me the way they seem to affect others.” Do you think Marcelo has changed in this respect by the end of the summer? What happened to him to make him change?
  6. Aurora tells Marcelo that kids his age do not generally have the kind of thoughts he has? Do you agree? How is Marcelo different from other kids his age?
  7. Why do you think Marcelo has a problem with his father’s description of his condition as a “cognitive disorder?” Why is Marcelo reluctant to call his condition Asperger’s syndrome? Marcelo says that when he talks about his “special interest”, he can see something like a glass wall descend between him and other people. If someone told you that their special interest was God, how would you react to that person?
  8. Wendell asks Marcelo if he ever feels attracted to a female body and Marcelo answers that he does not. How does Marcelo’s sexuality evolve throughout the summer? How would you describe Marcelo’s relationship to Jasmine at different points during the summer?
  9. How would you describe Marcelo’s relationship to Jasmine? Do you see this relationship evolving on the part of Marcelo from friendship to a more romantic relationship? What makes Jasmine and Marcelo “right for each other” on a friendship level?  On a romantic level?
  10. When Marcelo visits Rabbi Heschel towards the end of the summer, he tells her that he has stopped praying and that he has stopped reading holy books? Why did he stop? Compare Marcelo’s faith at the beginning of the summer and at the end. What happened to his special interest?
  11. What role does Ixtel play in the novel? How does she affect Marcelo? How is her influence different from Jasmine’s?
  12. If you were to ask Marcelo at the end of the summer, “how do we live with all the suffering?” What do you think he would say to you? Can you point to places in the book where you think Marcelo might have glimpsed at the answer to that question?