What does Bud learn over the course of the novel?
The novel's events unfold over a relatively short period of time, but it's an important time for Bud, who grows up significantly. He observes how Lefty's family interacts with each other and how the band does the same; it is okay to laugh and joke with those you love. He learns to let go of some of his repressed emotion and to give vent to his tears. He learns to be patient with Herman and to try and deal with his conflicted thoughts about Herman being his father, and then the knowledge that he is actually his grandfather. He experiences the value of family even if it's not the one he expected. And finally, he learns that he doesn't have to have his mementos on him at all times to remember his mother, because she is in his heart. Overall, he realizes that he has a new family, and even though it wasn't quite what he expected, he now knows love and security.
Why does Curtis tell the story using first-person perspective?
Bud's quest to find his family could certainly have been told by a third-person narrator but the novel would have had far less immediacy. Bud's voice is quirky and humorous; his perceptions of the world are truly those of a smart and spunky child. Readers feel his fear, hope, delight, and frustration quite intimately. Children recognize a friend, and adults can remember vestiges of what it felt like to be a child. Curtis also chose first-person perspective in order to portray the darker, more adult theme of racism in a way that softens the impact on young children, for Bud cannot fully process exactly what is happening or being said around him, and thus young readers cannot either. Adults can read through what Bud sees and hears, making the novel successful on multiple levels.
What is the significance of the historical context?
Setting the novel in the Depression allows Curtis to reveal the difficult truths about Depression-era America, which was rife with poverty and homelessness and despair. It also allows him to address, however subtly, the nature of racism in pre-Civil Rights era America. Bud's experiences and the people whom he meets allow readers to glean how the Depression was bad for everyone, but doubly bad for African Americans because they also had to contend with rampant racism, discrimination, and violence.
What is the significance of Bud's suitcase?
Bud's suitcase is a symbol of travel and itinerancy, but what is inside represents more. First, the items are all he has in his rootless, homeless existence. They are what he takes with him when he moves from place to place, representing the sole material goods he has to his name. Second, they represent memories. The picture of his mother reminds him of her and their short time together. Third, they represent hope in that the rocks and the fliers suggest to Bud that his story hasn't been fully told yet, and that he is going to find his father and have a family again. By the end of the novel, the items are still important to Bud but he has found a real family that means much more than them.
Why does Bud maintain he cannot cry anymore, then actually does so at the restaurant?
Bud does not think he can cry anymore because he has cried so many times in his life and simply cannot do it anymore. This indicates that he has hardened himself to the vicissitudes of his life and has come to see not crying as a survival technique along with the rest of his "rules." He contrasts himself with other "normal" kids and prides himself on not bursting into tears when something troublesome happens. However, what Bud is really doing is repressing all of his fears and sorrows and hurt, and when he gets among people who treat him kindly and respectfully and he feels like just maybe he's at the end of the journey, the tears finally leak out.