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How does the setting impact The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963?

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tracy2738 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 4, 2013 at 1:25 AM via iOS

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How does the setting impact The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 4, 2013 at 5:43 AM (Answer #1)

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Setting is key in this novel, especially relating to the civil rights movement and the extent to which it had an uneven spread across America. Kenny and his family live in Flint, in the North, where not only is it a lot colder but it is also much more advanced in terms of civil rights. It is interesting that whilst his mother pines for the warmer, southern climes of Alabama, his father is relieved and pleased that they live in Flint because of the greater safety his family have. Alabama, by contrast, is definitely warmer, and a place with a much slower, more relaxed pace of life. But make no mistakes: it is also a much more dangerous place for African Americans to be, as is shown by the bombing of the church in 1963, which was a real historical event. However, it is interesting in Chapter 11 that Kenny's first impressions of Birmingham, Alabama, seem to stress the similarities between Birmingham and Flint:

Birmingham looked a lot like Flint! There were real houses, not little log cabins, all over the place! And great big beautiful trees. Most of all, though, there was the sun.

The author seems to do this in order to highlight the essential common core of humanity that unites us all. Whether we live in Birmingham or Flint, we are all still the same humans, strongly supporting the novel's message that African Americans should be treated as humans wherever they live.

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