The novel’s poorest characters spend their lives wading through trash on a landfill called Behala, and their close proximity to garbage represents society’s misguided view of such impoverished people as metaphorical trash: disposable, unsavory, and ultimately worthless. People who live on Behala are forced to scavenge amid the garbage for plastic, paper, and rags that they can sell for food. As such, the story’s antagonists—especially the corrupt police force—frequently refer to the young scavengers who live on the landfill as “garbage,” meaning that they are worthless. However, the story’s protagonists, Raphael, Rat, and Gardo, are not the “trash boys” others assume they are—despite being uneducated and unimaginably poor, they are intelligent, quick-witted, kindhearted young boys with much more potential than the life they’ve been allocated.
It’s the police, by contrast, who are the real “garbage” in the story: they’ve let themselves be corrupted with bribes, meaning they abuse their power to imprison the poor, torture homeless orphans, and engage in frequent police brutality. Trash thus comes to symbolizes the moral corruption of the authority figures in Mulligan’s fictional city, which keeps innocent people oppressed and living in landfills while selfish people remain in power. Raphael, Rat, and Gardo often allude to this symbolism when they are proud that they, mere “trash boys,” are able to stay one step ahead of the “garbage police.”
Trash Quotes in Trash
No, never—because what we mainly find is stupp.
Gardo’s my partner, and we always work together. He looks after me.
We get the fast food too, and that’s a little business in itself. It doesn’t come out near me and Gardo, it goes down the far end, and about a hundred kids sort out the straws, the cups, and the chicken bones. Everything turned, cleaned and bagged up – cycled down to the weighers, weighed and sold.
Trash is often wet, and the juices are always running. Maybe the ground here was a bit lower, I don’t know—but it was always muddy […] I got down low with the candle, trying not to breathe too deep because of the stink […] It might seem crazy asking a kid if you can come into his hole, but this hole was about the only thing Rat had, apart from what he wore. I would not have lived there – anywhere would have been better.
When Smoky Mountain went down, there were nearly a hundred killed, and everyone knows some of those poor souls are still down there, down with the trash, turned into trash, rotting with the trash.
On the other hand, I did not want Raphael hiding and drawing attention that way, so that’s why I kept him right in the middle of it.
It sounds crazy, but there was some part of me sure I’d never found it, and some other part of me begging me not to give up—maybe for José Angelico, because we knew more about him now.
Behala also makes you want to weep, because it looks like an awful punishment that will never end – and if you have any imagination, you can see the child and what he is doomed to do for the rest of his life. When you see the old man, too weak to work, propped in a chair outside his shack, you think, That is Raphael in forty years. What could possibly change? These children are doomed to breathe the stink all day, all night, sifting the effluent of the city. Rats and children, children and rats, and you sometimes think they have pretty much the same life.
Once again, the trash boys were ahead of the trash police.
And that is when we saw the brightest light.
I wanted to hang back and see what happened when the first trash boy of the morning hooked up—not a stupp, but a hundred dollar bill.