Water by the Spoonful


Quiara Alegría Hughes

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Water by the Spoonful: Scene One Summary & Analysis

Elliot, a Puerto Rican Iraq War veteran who has a permanent limp and is wearing a Subway sandwich shop uniform, eats breakfast in a café at Swarthmore College with his cousin Yaz, who is a professor. Elliot and Yaz are waiting for someone, but Elliot needs to leave for work soon. As they wait, Elliot tells Yaz that he is having trouble getting his mom Mami Ginny to eat healthy to help her through the chemotherapy—she always wants to cook with heavy grease or bacon fat, like she used to in Puerto Rico.
The contrast between Yaz and Elliot is immediately apparent, even though they are close cousins: Elliot is poor, disabled, and caring for a sick mother, while Yaz is an Ivy League professor. This contrasting characterization establishes the dissonance present throughout the story. Elliot represents the barrio and Yaz’s poor Puerto Rican roots, while Yaz represents the possibility of freedom and escape into the normal world.
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In response, Yaz tells Elliot that she is finally signing the papers for her divorce from her husband William. Elliot is disappointed—everyone in the family was proud of Yaz for her marriage and stability—and says he doesn’t want to hear about it, but Yaz tells him anyway. Although Elliot asks if either of them were having an affair, Yaz states that William simply woke up one day and didn’t love her anymore, saying, “life is short, and you can only live in mediocrity for so long.”
Elliot’s attempt to avoid suffering by ignoring news of Yaz’s divorce indicates that he runs away from pain. This will be seen again in his relationship with Odessa, whom he avoids as much as possible to avoid the pain, rather than ever seeking reconciliation. Also, the banality of Yaz’s divorce—lacking any actual cause or motive—demonstrates the fragility of marriage and family.
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Related Quotes
Professor Aman, the man who they’d been waiting for, arrives. Elliot asks Yaz to let them speak in private for a couple minutes. After she leaves, Elliot asks Professor Aman to translate a sentence from Arabic that he once heard and wrote down phonetically several years prior. Professor Aman presses Elliot on what the significance of the sentence is, gathering that he is a former Marine who was discharged after a leg wound, though Elliot is reluctant to share any of this information. Professor Aman asks Elliot if he’d be willing to help a friend of his work on a documentary-style film about Marines in L.A. Although Elliot refuses immediately, saying he’s had enough of interviews and questionnaires, Professor Aman tells him that it would be a way to break into his acting career. Elliot reluctantly takes the filmmaker’s phone number. Professor Aman tells him that the rough translation of his phrase is, “Can I please have my passport back?”
Elliot’s discharge from the service after being wounded again characterizes him as a tragic character who has served his country and has nothing to show for it other than a constant pain in his leg. The Arabic phrase will be revealed to be the last thing said by the first man Elliot killed in Iraq. That the man was merely asking for his passport, and Elliot did not realize this, suggests that it was a needless killing due to misunderstanding, giving Elliot yet another source of guilt that will plague him throughout the play. Although his shooting of the Arabic man is never condemned, it does affect the audience’s perception of Elliot’s military service—he regretful, rather than heroic.
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