Andy Mulligan

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Trash Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Andy Mulligan's Trash. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Andy Mulligan

Andy Mulligan was born and raised in South London. After completing university in the United Kingdom, he worked as a theater director and he had grand ambitions of running the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, the economic downturn in Britain under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher left Mulligan out of work in the 1980s, resulting in a life-changing visit to Calcutta, India, where a friend was repairing an orphanage. Mulligan’s exposure to poverty in India made him question his life’s path and he returned to Britain to retrain as a teacher, after which he taught in Cornwall, England; Vietnam; Brazil; and the Philippines. It was Mulligan’s exposure to children living on a landfill in the Philippines that inspired Trash, which he wrote while working as a teacher in Manila, though he drew on his experiences with impoverished communities in several cultures to flesh out the story and characters. Mulligan published his first young adult novel, Ribblestrop, in 2009, though it was the publication of Trash in 2010 that garnered him international acclaim as a writer—despite the fact that Trash sparked significant controversy over its depictions of violence and its use of profanity. Mulligan subsequently wrote seven additional young adult novels before turning his hand to adult fiction in 2019.
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Historical Context of Trash

Trash was based on Mulligan’s personal exposure to several children living on a landfill in Manila in 2010, during a school trip with his 11-year-old students at the British School of Manila, in the Philippines. Mulligan found the landfill’s children—like Trash’s protagonists Raphael, Rat, and Gardo—to be highly intelligent, charming, and resilient. There was a charity-run Christian school on site, on which Mulligan based Trash’s Pascal Aguilar Mission School. Trash also mentions Smoky Mountain, which was an actual Manila dumpsite that operated from 1969–1995. Raphael’s story about a deadly garbage landslide is based on an actual 2010 landslide at the Payatas dumpsite in Manila, which killed over 200 scavengers. Mulligan’s characters are also based on slum-dwelling children he met in Asia in the 1990s, including a Calcutta street boy who—along with Manila’s young scavengers—inspired the character of Raphael. Mulligan’s uses of pesos as currency and Latin American names for some characters allude to Latin America—notably Brazil, where Mulligan taught in the 2000s—while the character name “Jun” connotes East Asia (where Mulligan also taught). Mulligan likely situated his novel in a fictional city bearing these diverse real-world reference points so that he could symbolize multiple real-world communities and thereby criticize 21st-century corruption and income disparity on an international scale.

Other Books Related to Trash

Mulligan was inspired by John Boyne’s 2006 Holocaust novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which he reportedly kept on his desk while writing Trash. He was also inspired by the motif of “golden tickets” in Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in which a young impoverished boy named Charlie gains access to a better life after he finds a golden ticket in a Willy Wonka chocolate bar. Charlie’s “golden ticket” to a better life prompted Mulligan to think about what a “golden ticket” might be for children living as scavengers on a landfill. Like Trash, Mulligan’s 2015 novel Liquidator similarly revolves around a plot involving young people who band together to expose injustices they face in their developing country. Another popular novel featuring a young protagonist who wins out despite living in a corrupt society is Vikas Swarup’s 2005 Slumdog Millionaire, in which a young man miraculously wins a fortune on a game show based on knowledge he acquired from a childhood on India’s streets. An earlier example of a book with a social message about childhood poverty is Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle, which addresses immigrant child labor in a rapidly industrializing early-20th-century Chicago. Like Mulligan, Sinclair advocated for better treatment of society’s most vulnerable children through his writing.
Key Facts about Trash
  • Full Title: Trash
  • When Written: 2010
  • Where Written: Manila, Philippines
  • When Published: 2010
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Fiction; Thriller
  • Setting: A fictional city with a large population of impoverished children and a corrupt ruling elite, centering on a landfill called Behala
  • Climax: Raphael, Gardo, Rat, and Pia escape to a happy life as fishermen on the beaches of Sampalo.
  • Antagonist: Senator Zapanta
  • Point of View: First Person (multiple narrators)

Extra Credit for Trash

From Page to Screen. Trash inspired a 2014 movie bearing the same name, with the action relocated to Brazil. At Mulligan’s request, director Stephen Daldry cast three unknowns from a local favela in the lead roles of Raphael, Gardo, and Rat.

Flash Fiction.  Mulligan wrote Trash in just 10 days (during which he wrote for 10 hours every day) while living in Manila.