Watsons Go to Birmingham” by Christopher Paul Curtis Character Analysis
The Watsons Go to Birmingham is an insightful children’s book set in 1963 and brings to fore issues revolving about the American Civil Rights Movement (Curtis 8). It was a period when the African American community was presented with a unique window opportunity to call for equal rights treatments throughout the entire American society (Griffin and Curtis 25). There were people from both sides of the racial divide who invoked extreme measures that resulted in far reaching consequences to the basic unit of the personally and more so, among children in such families regardless of race. This essay seeks to present a character analysis on Byron who is the protagonist’s older brother and how Curtis employs this fictional persona throughout the narrative.
Byron is introduced as a 13 year old and a first born in a family of five. He is a young boy with strong felonious tendencies always being caught up in the wrong side of issues. For instance, after being directed to perform a simple task together with his younger brother, he causes not only harm to himself as a result of selfish antics placing the family in a distressing yet comical situation. Rather than simply scrape ice off of the car, he selfishly becomes overly engaged in his own looks and kisses his own reflection (Curtis 12). As a result, his lips become stuck into the care mirror requiring that he be yanked off it.
Byron has bully tendencies too which compels the young protagonist to savor seeing him get into trouble. His antics are at times interesting but also transcend to the extreme despite the fact that his family is kind and full of love. There is an instance where Byron beats his friend, Larry Dun for stealing his mittens , “Lemme! Whack! See! Whack! Them! Whack! Gloves! Whack! Young! Whack! Fool! Whackwhackwhack!”(Curtis 40) He does in front of the entire school which makes the victim not only very hurt physically but emotionally humiliated as well. It is a contrasting aspect seeing that his is from a humble and caring family yet he is so easily inclined in being the worst person ever.
Given that the issue of the Civil rights Movement impacts Kenny’s family to a great extent; one can point out that some of Byron’s delinquent behaviors stem from interactions with other societal members exhibiting similar standpoints. Not all took a positive approach in the Movement of the 1960’s while some called for a peaceful revolution others championed for outright violence to gain desired ends. Undoubtedly, both races had people vouching for equality and equity while some could not understand why there was the need for the proposed social change (Griffin and Curtis 26). Taking Byron’s mittens without permission is akin to what the black community was advocating for, comfort in a cold society. A section of the aggrieved white populations believed that it was not in the place of the African American population to determine what it needed and there was the need to suppress it to submission. His character points out that in as much as there are good family backgrounds, there are also people from the same accommodative environments who so not manifest the same perception. It is the choice of the individual to do what is right or do what is retrogressive to societal development.
As the narrative progresses, the protagonist paints a picture of a different Byron, one where he is revealed as a sensitive character. The delinquent older brother with is uncanny way of displaying affection tosses a cookie at a bird but ends up knocking it dead. Byron cries openly for the poor dove’s death which not only comes as a shock to Kenny but to readers too. “He dropped the bird, walked over to the green apple tree and started throwing up. I stood there with my mouth open; I couldn’t believe Byron was starting to cry” (Curtis 56). Joey, his little sister consoles him. Byron is taken aback by his actions that he chooses to give it an emotionally fitting burial. One can provide that his was an avenue that the author employed to show that even that life which is regarded as puny has great meaning and needs to be regarded with respect. Similarly, Byron rescues the protagonist from drowning and goes ahead to kiss him after coughing water from his lungs (Curtis 118). It emerges that the tough outer layer exhibited through his delinquency essentially shields a much softer inside.
When the family moves back to Flint, Michigan, Byron is exhibited as one who has undergone a complete transformation from a frightening personality to one where he is able to project empathy freely. “Byron even started sleeping on the couch at night” (Curtis 132). While in Birmingham where the Civil Rights Movement was a treacherous affair, Joey happened to have in a church that was bombed and Byron selflessly placed himself in danger looking for her (Curtis 124). He becomes a big brother with whom the protagonist can confide in of his fears and look up to for encouragement as opposed to one who continually heaps more problems on him.
Raising children is an amazingly arduous task. In different stages of life, children exhibit different behaviors. Moving to their grandmother’s house in Birmingham was the best thing to happen not only to Byron but to the entire family too. Byron is used by the author to show that people have the capacity to change and when such persons undergo transformations, the benefits that the society gains remain profound in a positive way.
Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963. New York City, NY: Delacorte Press, 1995. Web. 29 Jun. 2017. < http://www.newworldprep.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/The-Watsons-go-to-Birmingham.pdf>
Griffin, Amy and Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963. New York City, NY: Yearling, 2013. Web. 29 Jun. 2017.<http://www.montgomery.k12.ky.us/userfiles/1472/classes/4106/watsons.pdf >.