Parrot In The Oven Summary

Victor Martinez

Parrot In The Oven

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Parrot In The Oven Summary

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Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida is Mexican American author Victor Martinez’s debut novel. The novel won the National Book Award in 1996. It is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story set in the public housing projects of California’s Central Valley. Martinez originally intended the novel to be for adults, but his editor suggested it be marketed towards young adults, instead. Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida has been translated into many languages around the world, including Spanish, Italian, Japanese and German and has been widely acclaimed.

The main character of the novel is Manuel Hernandez, a young boy often known as Manny. Manny is growing up in the projects with his parents, one brother, and two sisters. The title of the novel comes from Manny’s father, who compares to Manny a parrot in the oven: he sits around in the shade all day and complains about the heat. The saying is often used for people who are stupid, but Manny’s father uses it in a different way, to describe Manny as a trusting person. He says that Manny is naïve and often doesn’t see people’s true nature. This appears to be accurate, as Manny shows a deep level of empathy, but he himself is hurt by this ability to easily trust others.

Manny’s father has been out of work for some time. He doesn’t like the idea of being dependant on government welfare, but the family struggles financially regardless. Manny’s mother’s name is Rebecca, and she hates the position that Manny’s father is putting the family in by refusing welfare. Manny’s father often seems to flounder about without much direction in life. This is clearly shown in his frequent visits to Rico’s Pool Hall. His outings make Rebecca even angrier, and she compares them to pouring milk down the drain, wasting the little money they have on entertainment while the family lacks necessities. One day, Rebecca decides enough is enough, and brings Manny with her to force Manny’s father to come home. She arrives at the pool hall and embarrasses her husband. The couple fight, and soon it devolves into violence. Manny’s father begins to chase and threaten his wife with a gun, and the police arrive to arrest him. Rebecca’s response to this is conflicted: she is happy her husband was arrested, but yet excited when he finally comes home after serving his jail time. They reconcile and promise to be better toward each other. Manny’s father agrees to be more responsible, and finds a job.

Manny’s older sister is named Magda. She works at a Laundromat and hates it there. She is interested in boys and dating, but Rebecca does not want her to have a boyfriend. One day, Magda comes home complaining of severe abdominal pain, and Rebecca realizes that she is having a miscarriage. Manny worries about Magda, and is horrified to see the tiny fetus lying on the bathroom floor, dead. The family is forced to go to the emergency room, where they wait for hours to be seen. Many others around them are in desperate need of attention, but are also forced to wait. The system is obviously stretched too thin, and people who need healthcare but cannot afford it suffer because of their poverty. Soon after, Magda is still feverish and sick, but Rebecca has no more money to take her back to the hospital.

Manny’s older brother is named Bernardo, often called Nardo. Nardo is a lazy person who always tries to get out of work whenever he can. Manny and Nardo are given the task of cleaning out their grandmother’s garden, but Nardo quickly quits. Later on, however, it seems that Nardo has taken on some responsibility as a delivery boy for the local drugstore.

Manny goes to school, where he gets good grades. Rebecca tries to send him to a better school at one point, but it doesn’t work out. Manny’s poverty is even more evident when he encounters other students with more money and opportunities than him, and he yearns for those things too.

Manny soon becomes involved with a group of boys who form an informal gang. One day, one of the boys shoves an old woman and robs her, stealing money from her purse. The friend runs, and Manny, caught off guard, chases his friend down the street. The police arrive, but they believe Manny was trying to chase down the thief, not that he was involved. This close call with the law shakes Manny, who returns home to find Magda asleep on the couch with his little sister, Pedi. Manny understand that his family is the most important thing and sits down to watch the girls sleep.