"Oh yeah, they're a laugh a minute down there. Let's see, where was that 'Coloreds Only' bathroom downtown?"
This quote introduces the issue of race that will permeate the rest of the novel. Since 1963 represented the middle of the American Civil Rights movement, race was a contentious issue, and segregation was widespread in the South. With these words, Daniel reminds Wilona that, while she might remember Birmingham fondly, there are still evils there that the Watsons do not have to deal with up north in Flint.
"I guess I should have told Momma that I really appreciated her helping me get my friend back but I didn't have to. I was pretty sure she already knew."
With everything else going on in the narrative, it can be easy to forget that this book is fundamentally about the love family members have for one another and the bonds that hold them together in the face of trouble. This family learns and grows, and this is one of the many quotes that exemplifies Kenny's gratitude towards his family for helping him in all kinds of situations. Though Kenny is capable of making many important judgment calls on his own, he is still a child and he still makes mistakes: sometimes, as when his friendship with Rufus is strained, he needs a little push from his family to help patch things up.
"Byron was the only person in the world who could make you feel sorry for someone as mean as Larry Dunn."
Kenny would not be in the wrong to take pleasure in seeing Larry Dunn beat up, since Larry stole Kenny's best gloves and then lied about doing so. However, Kenny has the kind of empathy that Byron does not appear to have. He can watch someone get hurt and feel that other person's pain; even though this bully has hurt him, Kenny understands what it is like to be hurt by Byron. This quote also emphasizes the hierarchy of Clark Elementary; even the bullies can get bullied by bigger bullies, based on where they stand on the social ladder.
"Leave it to Daddy Cool to kill a bird, then give it a funeral. Leave it to Daddy Cool to torture human kids at school all day long and never have his conscience bother him but to feel sorry for a stupid little grayish brown bird."
Byron is a complicated character. He typically misbehaves and torments others, and an important premise in The Watsons Go to Birmingham is getting him to mature past this mentality and accept that he must grow up. However, there are some instances when Byron lets his guard down and his hard outer shell breaks. Byron's guilt after he accidentally kills the bird suggests that he does not intend for serious harm to come as a result of his actions.
"I don't think I'll ever know what to do when I'm a grown-up. It seems like you and Momma know a lot of things that I can never learn. It seems real scary. I don't think I could ever be as good a parent as you guys."
This novel is a coming-of-age story for Kenny. In the beginning, he acts more like a child, concerned with elementary school bullies and friendships. A transition begins, though, when the trip to Birmingham comes along. This discussion, which takes place while Kenny is sitting in the car with his father, is one of the first times Kenny starts thinking about becoming an adult and what it means.
"But Mommy, it's white."
Joey is only five years old, and yet the racial boundaries set by her society are already ingrained in her mind. When she looks at a white angel and compares it to her dark skin, she sees a stark and unsettling difference, because society has already taught her that black and white are two entirely different, separate things.
"Where he should have had a face there was nothing but dark gray. Where he should have had eyes there was nothing but a darker colder-looking color. He grabbed my leg and started pulling me down."
Kenny's decision to ignore warnings and go swimming in the forbidden area was a childlike one, made with notions of invincibility in his head. This episode results in an eye-opening lesson for him; death is very real and very possible, so he needs to be careful and not put himself into perilous situations. The Wool Pooh symbolizes death for Kenny, and will make a reappearance later on, too.
"The Wool Pooh. Oh, man. I gave the shoe one more hard tug and it popped loose from a frilly white sock. I got real scared. I walked as slowly and as quietly as I could out of the church. Maybe if I moved quietly he wouldn't come for me. Maybe if I walked and didn't look back he'd leave me alone."
Whether or not the Wool Pooh is actually real, Kenny saw this figure in this moment, seemingly taking Kenny's sister away. He made the decision to walk away rather than fight for Joey, afraid that the Wool Pooh would come for him, too. This is the source of much of Kenny's guilt at the very end of the novel, but ultimately Kenny accepts the fact that neither he nor anyone else had any control over the terrible situation that unfolded in Birmingham.
"I don't think they're sick at all, I think they just let hate eat them up and turn them into monsters."
Byron's assessment of the church bombing in this quote brings into play one of the major themes of the end of the book. He acknowledges the destructive nature of hatred, the way it can completely change a person into something terrible. During the period of racism and discrimination addressed in The Watsons Go to Birmingham, American society was full of hate; however, love, like the love that the Watsons have for one another, is hate's fiercest adversary.
"And I'm sure there was an angel in Birmingham when Grandma Sands wrapped her little arms around all of the Weird Watsons and said, 'My fambly, my beautiful, beautiful fambly."
At the very end of the novel, Kenny comes to an extremely mature realization about the importance of family. He retains his childhood belief that magic exists, but he also accepts that this magic takes the form of the love that he and his relatives share. Though Kenny's family has gotten on his nerves many times over the course of the story, it is crystal clear by the end that Kenny is extremely proud to be a Weird Watson.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 is a great
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