Andy Mulligan’s novel Trash is a moving tribute to the power of community and solidarity. Mulligan’s story centers on a young boy named Raphael and his two friends Gardo and Rat. They all live as scavengers, or “trash boys,” on a rotting landfill called Behala. Despite the story’s disheartening setting, the characters’ grim lives are somewhat alleviated by a sense of community. Moreover, the loyalty between the central protagonists and their solidarity with other impoverished people in the story are instrumental in enabling the boys to survive when they are on the run from the police (for uncovering clues to a stolen fortune) and escaping to a better life. Thus, by demonstrating how community, loyalty, and solidarity are essential to the boys’ success, Mulligan ultimately argues that these are invaluable forces which help people to cope, survive, and even thrive amid trying circumstances.
Mulligan shows how the deplorable lives of scavengers living in Behala are made more tolerable by the sense of community among those who are in the same boat. For example, although the landfill’s residents spend their days seeking plastic, paper, and rags that they can sell for food by crawling through putrid, rotting garbage comprised mostly of human feces (or, “stupp”), they are able to derive enjoyment from their time together as a community by cooking rice over communal cooking fires, sometimes with “music and singing” which makes them happy despite their plight. The landfill’s close-knit community also provides emotional support for its members who are treated unjustly by the outside world. For instance, when Raphael returns to Behala after being brutally beaten by the police, Olivia (a volunteer at the site’s charity-run school) reflects on the emotional support in the community. She observes, “When one of their number is hurt, everyone feels the wound.” Mulligan thus shows how a sense of community among people facing hardship can help them through difficult times.
The loyalty among Raphael, Gardo, and Rat—as well as the solidarity they share with other poor people—is a source of strength for them throughout the story. It even saves various characters’ lives: Raphael, for example, finds the strength to endure violent police brutality through of solidarity with a poor man named José Angelico (who stole a fortune from a corrupt vice-president and was subsequently killed in a police interrogation). Even when a detective referred to as the “tired man” interrogates Raphael and he threatens to break all of Raphael’s bones “one by one” and throw him in the trash, Raphael refuses to divulge the location of a bag containing clues to the hidden fortune. Raphael reflects, “Where did I find the strength? I know that it was José Angelico’s strength.” Raphael, Gardo, and Rat are also saved from certain death during a police chase when they jump into a building where dozens of street kids live. The street kids surround the protagonists and they mask the boys’ presence from the police out of sheer solidarity. Raphael remarks, “they knew we were running because there’s not many kids that haven’t had to do the same thing—and they were wild for us. We all ran together […] suddenly we were a mighty crowd, pouring into the hallway. It saved us, I swear.” Mulligan thus shows how solidarity between people enduring similar struggles is highly valuable because it can provide strength through trying ordeals and even saves people’s lives.
Furthermore, although Raphael, Gardo, and Rat are hopelessly poor, they cannot condone the idea of taking money that could benefit the lives of other poor people. In this way, the novel suggests that remaining loyal to one’s community is even more important than fulfilling one’s personal needs and wants. Rat admits that the boys never planned on keeping the stolen fortune for themselves when he says, “I promise you one thing we all knew was that it was not ours and we would not even try to take more than a little.” Instead of taking more for themselves, the boys and José Angelico’s young orphaned daughter, Pia, only take a small bagful of cash each—enough to buy train fares to Sampalo and buy fishing boats from which they can carve out a living—and they distribute most of the $6,000,000 across Behala for the city’s poorest to find. Their actions reflect their loyalty to their community and José Angelico (whose dying wish was for the stolen fortune to be returned to the poor). The boys similarly adopt Pia into their “team” and they carve out a life together as fishermen in Sampalo, despite not knowing Pia at all. By taking Pia under their wing, the boys also reflect their loyalty to José Angelico by honoring his other dying wish that whoever finds the fortune take care of his daughter. The boys thus reveal that their solidarity with the impoverished directs their choices, despite several opportunities to be more selfish. The story’s poorest characters are the most commendable because they value the plight of others more than their own personal needs. Overall, the solidarity among the story’s protagonists demonstrates how a sense of community can make difficult circumstances tolerable and how loyalty to other vulnerable people can pull them out of poverty or even save their lives.
Community, Loyalty, and Solidarity ThemeTracker
Community, Loyalty, and Solidarity Quotes in Trash
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.
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.
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.