The Watsons Go to Birmingham is the tale of a summer journey that leaves a family— and a nation—forever transformed. Produced by Walden. This books (The Watsons Go to Birmingham A Novel [PDF]) Made by Christopher Paul Curtis About Books Enter the hilarious world of. The Newbery and Coretta Scott King Honoree about the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan—from Christopher Paul Curtis, author of Bud, Not Buddy, a Newbery.
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The Watsons go to Birmingham— / Christopher Paul Curtis. p. cm. Summary :The ordinary interactions and everyday routines of the Watsons, an African. Thank you for downloading this eBook. If you accessed this eBook without making #—Instructional Guide: The Watsons Go to Birmingham— Scholastic BookFiles: A reading guide to. The Watsons Go to Birmingham— by Christopher Paul Curtis/Amy Griffin. p. cm. Summary: Discusses the writing.
Then have them create a time line of events that took place from so a historical connection can be made to the time during which the novel takes place. Ask students who have records or tapes of s music especially African American music to bring them in to share with the class. Later, compare that music to music mentioned in the novel. Have students reread what they feel is the funniest passage. Then have them write a funny passage they would like to add to this novel.
Witnessing this gives Kenny permission to tease his mother in the same way. The temptation to tease and the restraint he exercises are reminiscent of the conflicting feelings he often witnesses in Byron. Kimmel reminds us that dominant paradigms of masculinity are wrapped in considerable anxiety about appearing effeminate or gay: The fear—sometimes conscious, sometimes not—that others might perceive us as homosexual propels men to enact all manner of exaggerated masculine behaviors and attitudes to make sure no one could possibly get the wrong idea about us.
One of the centerpieces of that masculinity is putting women down. Daniel furtively glances over at his sleeping wife and advises his son not to tell her. In addition, the fact that he has driven all night and disregarded her plans puts him at further risk of her admonition. He successfully distracts the family until they arrive at their destination.
Thus we see the vigilance that is required to keep the male-female hierarchy intact. The performances of masculinities that Kenny observes are firmly embedded in heteronormativity. The novel rejects overt violence but upholds sexism and homophobia as acceptable tenets of masculinity.
Superiority through Aggression Bullying constitutes a significant theme in The Watsons Go to Birming- ham—, perhaps even the most overt one. Several instances of physical and verbal abuse by older boys of younger, seemingly weaker ones clearly position bullying as abhorrent.
It is perhaps for this overt antibullying message that the novel is endorsed as a good book for boys to read. Wannamaker supplies the example of a librarian, Rachelle Lasky Bilz, who has compiled a bibliography of books entitled Life Is Tough: Guys Growing Up, and Young Adult Literature, intended to help boys negotiate the difficulties of adolescence 3.
While the concern about boys remains racially unmarked for the most part, the machinations of stereo- types are clearly at work when it comes to the consideration of boys of color. Within this paradigm there is singular interest in providing African American readers with nonviolent forms of alternative behavior. Through Kenny, the reader feels compassion, pity, and unmitigated dislike for violent characters.
The context for the violence is some- thing the reader must examine independently, remembering that poverty is not simply an unfortunate circumstance but a dominant feature of a racially unjust society.
Collins provides an analysis of the ways in which physical dominance among African American males is a central feature in identity construction as it is defined by hegemonic ideology. She argues that the importance placed on physical subordination positions black men in a complicated, restricted place that is ultimately self-destructive: Aggressive behavior takes on an added importance for African American men whose power within the broader political economy remains compromised.
For example, elite white men run the army and the police forces—they have the authority to manage the legitimate use of force while not appearing to be violent at all. In contrast, working class and poor black men have access to street weapons, and many use their own bodies as weapons. They are disenfranchised on many levels as poor, black youth. Their only means of power and control is bullying, which enables them to establish authority, but the safeguarding of this authority is of constant con- cern since their poverty can strip them of any real or perceived power.
In The Watsons Go to Birmingham—, poverty is clearly identified as the reason why characters are bullied at Clark Elementary School. The event described below is emotionally charged and unambiguous in its condemnation of vio- lence. Larry Dunn, a secondary character, is quickly established as a heartless bully with all the typically associated traits: picking on the poorer, younger, smaller kids when they are at their most defenseless.
What is revealed is that Larry himself is extremely poor and lives in fear of a secret about his mother being shared, which would result in a reversal of HeteroMasculinity in The Watsons Go to Birmingham— the power dynamic he has upheld thus far.
He is a young man who fears his status will be destroyed by the actions of his mother. Fear-based, he is isolated and terrified. We learn periodically throughout the novel that Byron is fully aware of white racism. In fact, he is the only character who speaks of racism, even more so than his father. This homophobic characterization of white masculinity, combined with the absence of alternative models of masculinity of any race , would naturally create some degree of inner conflict and a need to constantly and self-consciously enact a gendered subjectivity.
Byron enacts his masculinity by oppressing younger or weaker boys and defying his parents. Though the narrator does not understand, the reader, no matter how young, can recognize the humanity even in a character like Byron, who evolves from despicable to likeable.
In The Watsons Go to Birmingham—, the reader is particularly drawn to the character of Kenny, not only because we identify with him as the narrator but because of the experiences that move him.
The turning point comes when Kenny disobeys orders, goes swimming alone, and nearly drowns. Byron saves him, and Kenny barely has time to recover when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is bombed and the Watson family quickly returns to Flint.
Eventually, Byron coerces him out and Kenny is literally forced to face his grief and confusion. The sight of his own face in the mirror incites an emotional outburst in which Kenny weeps relentlessly. Though Byron has been changed by events that almost cost him two siblings, he will not demon- strate emotion if he can help it.
The novel ends on a humorous note with Byron having convinced Kenny of his role in saving Joetta from the church bomb and an assertion of his new and improved brotherly role. Kenny and the reader are assured that the better way to be a boy is to reject violence and be able to acknowledge and express emotion in solitude.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham— fits well within the genre of contem- porary literature seeking to provide male readers with alternative modes of masculinity. Unfortunately, it does so without challenging heteronormativity, instead reinforcing the heteronormativity of black masculinity.
The kinds of messages that Kenny Watson receives about male gender performativity are embedded in systemically reinforced hegemonic notions about what being male means, albeit in the context of race and racism.
We are given to understand that Kenny will grow up to be like his father, not his brother. Byron, in turn, has learned what his parents intended for him to learn.
His cavalier attitude toward life nearly causes Kenny to drown, and he witnesses a supreme act of racist violence. Most significantly, both boys learn that the world they live in can be instantly shattered by the kind of racism that resulted in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which killed four little girls in real life and almost killed their sister in the novel. HeteroMasculinity in The Watsons Go to Birmingham— Scholars have speculated suggestively about what alternative black mascu- linities could look like.
For a start, the emphasis would be on the plurality of possibilities rather than the identification of one alternative. The book provides a variety of explorations along artistic, economic, social, sexual, and even religious lines, of ways in which black masculinities can shape and reshape themselves and society. At the heart of all the essays lies the urgent need to recognize the self-destructive inevitability of adhering to the heteronormative ideology and to move away from this model.
Heteronormativity relies on the maintenance of unquestioned heterosexu- ality. Though not unique in this way, The Watsons is firmly situated within the body of literature that enforces compulsory heterosexuality, not only through seemingly innocuous humor directed at the abject figures of Larry Dunn and Hambone Henderson and through those subtle, naturalized markers of family life that nudge children toward heteronormativity gently but insistently.
Queer theory suggests that rather than seek alternative representations of gender, race, class, etc. Exposing the ways in which social structures work enables us to imagine things differently, without binaries, with less rigidity.
As an agent in identity formation, the narrative, John Stephens reminds us, is especially privileged in that the relationship between text and reader is interactive.
The text invites the reader to inhabit the world it presents xxi. My analysis of The Watsons Go to Birmingham— is possible because of the work of feminist and queer scholars who paved the way for masculinity studies and critical whiteness studies. We should of course applaud how this novel con- demns aggression and offers alternative and generally positive characterizations of African American boys and men. In many ways, Daniel, Byron, and Kenny can be considered role models as well as dynamic, realistic characters.
At the same time, we must be alert to how black masculinity is still being forced to comply with the very same cultural pressures that deny it legitimacy, especially in terms of the representation of gender and sexuality. We should continue to seek new constructions of identity that are not predicated on the exclusion or denigration of others.
Notes 1. Have students write about their own sibling relationships and compare them to the Watsons. This is an unbelievable punishment that she almost carries out. Was she bluffing to frighten Byron?
How would it be viewed today? When should mediation intervene? How do you avoid such situations? Brainstorm to develop solutions. Have students find inferences that blacks and whites were treated differently pp. Check reference books for historical details of the Birmingham church bombing and look for the names of the young girls listed on the "In Memory of" page.
Probe the question raised by Kenny p. Have students tape-record the speech of relatives with regional accents. WordPress Shortcode.
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