Trash

Trash

by

Andy Mulligan

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Trash Symbol Icon

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

The Trash quotes below all refer to the symbol of Trash. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Childhood, Poverty, and Injustice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Ember edition of Trash published in 2011.
Part 1: Chapter 1 Quotes

No, never—because what we mainly find is stupp.

Related Characters: Raphael Fernández (speaker)
Related Symbols: Trash
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Gardo’s my partner, and we always work together. He looks after me.

Related Characters: Raphael Fernández (speaker), Gardo
Related Symbols: Trash
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Raphael Fernández (speaker), Gardo
Related Symbols: Trash
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1: Chapter 4 Quotes

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.

Related Symbols: Trash
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Raphael Fernández (speaker), Gardo, Rat / Jun / Jun-Jun
Related Symbols: Trash
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1: Chapter 5 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Gardo (speaker), Raphael Fernández, Rat / Jun / Jun-Jun
Related Symbols: Trash
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

In our little neighborhood there were more cooking fires than usual, and a few cases of beer. There was music and singing, and everyone was happy.

Related Characters: Gardo (speaker)
Related Symbols: Trash
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Chapter 2 Quotes

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.

Related Symbols: Trash
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Chapter 3 Quotes

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.

Related Symbols: Trash
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4: Chapter 4 Quotes

Once again, the trash boys were ahead of the trash police.

Related Symbols: Trash
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5: Chapter 1 Quotes

And that is when we saw the brightest light.

Related Symbols: Brightest Light, Trash
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5: Chapter 5 Quotes

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.

Related Symbols: Trash
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Trash LitChart as a printable PDF.
Trash PDF

Trash Symbol Timeline in Trash

The timeline below shows where the symbol Trash appears in Trash. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Chapter 1
Childhood, Poverty, and Injustice Theme Icon
...is “stupp,” which is human excrement. It’s often wrapped in paper and thrown in the trash, on account of the city’s lack of toilets or running water. The overwhelmingly large dumpsite—which... (full context)
Childhood, Poverty, and Injustice Theme Icon
Intelligence, Education, and Street Smarts Theme Icon
Raphael has been a “trash boy” since he was three. These children look for plastic (which can be sold by... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 2
Childhood, Poverty, and Injustice Theme Icon
Community, Loyalty, and Solidarity Theme Icon
...the day everything changed: he is working with Gardo by the crane belts that offload trash. Even though this location dangerous and trash rains down everywhere, it’s the best place to... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 4
Childhood, Poverty, and Injustice Theme Icon
Community, Loyalty, and Solidarity Theme Icon
Rat’s real name is Jun-Jun, but he’s nicknamed Rat because he lives in a trash hole full of rats. After dinner, Raphael and Gardo weave their way through a part... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 1
Childhood, Poverty, and Injustice Theme Icon
Intelligence, Education, and Street Smarts Theme Icon
...but foreigners usually can’t do so—this saddens Father Juilliard because so many babies “crawl into trash” as soon as they’re able. Father Juilliard will never forget Jun’s amazement at running water... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 2
Corruption, Power, and Theft Theme Icon
Community, Loyalty, and Solidarity Theme Icon
The tired man fires repeated questions at Raphael: he asks how “trash like you” can read (Gardo and Raphael’s auntie taught him), how much money he found... (full context)
Childhood, Poverty, and Injustice Theme Icon
Corruption, Power, and Theft Theme Icon
Intelligence, Education, and Street Smarts Theme Icon
...break all of Raphael’s bones—starting with his arm—and drag Raphael to a “special place” for “garbage” like him. Then they could put Raphael’s body in a sack in the trash. The... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 3
Corruption, Power, and Theft Theme Icon
Community, Loyalty, and Solidarity Theme Icon
Intelligence, Education, and Street Smarts Theme Icon
...nothing if he was their only clue, and he feels pretty proud of himself, a “garbage” boy, for outsmarting the “garbage police.” Raphael walks three hours to Behala. He tells the... (full context)
Part 4: Chapter 1
Childhood, Poverty, and Injustice Theme Icon
Intelligence, Education, and Street Smarts Theme Icon
...they have to run. The boys grab Rat’s money and they sneak out through the trash with no time to say goodbyes. Rat decides that they should hide out in a... (full context)
Community, Loyalty, and Solidarity Theme Icon
Intelligence, Education, and Street Smarts Theme Icon
A week later, Rat goes back to the dumpsite in the back of a garbage truck. He doesn’t tell the boys why. To the reader, Rat admits that he habitually... (full context)
Part 4: Chapter 4
Corruption, Power, and Theft Theme Icon
Community, Loyalty, and Solidarity Theme Icon
Intelligence, Education, and Street Smarts Theme Icon
...try that, and it works: the coordinates point to a graveyard. Rat likes how “the trash boys were ahead of the trash police.” (full context)