What shocks Kenny about Rufus and Cody's life in Arkansas in The Watsons go to Birmingham--1963?

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The biggest piece of information that Kenny learns about the kind of life that Rufus and Cody had in Arkansas before they moved up north was the immense poverty that they faced down there. This is characterised by the way in which Rufus tells Kenny that they ate squirrels because they were so poor. What stand out about Rufus and Cody is their immense poverty in an environment where none of the families are very rich. They are marked not only by their Southern accents, but also by their lack of clothes. Note what Kenny reports soon after they arrive and start going to the same school:

It didn't take people too long before they counted how many pairs of pants and shirts Rufus and Cody had. That was easy to do because Rufus only had two shirts and two pairs of pants and Cody only had three shirts and two pairs of pants. They also had one pair of blue jeans that they switched off on.

It is interesting the way that the clothing of Rufus and Kenny is so obviously carefully scrutinised and noted by the kids at Kenny's school. It suggests that they are all eager to work out where these two new characters stand in the social pecking order. The lack of clothes strongly indicates that they fall well below everybody else, and the way in which they are treated is symptomatic of the desire to show that you are better than others that is found in all humans, the novel suggests. What shocks Kenny therefore about Rufus and Cody is the way that they lived through such immense poverty in Arkansas, and this is a poverty that continues to affect them now.


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