Bonham never specifies the exact setting of his story, perhaps in an attempt to universalize the problem of urban gangs. But Durango Street seems to be located in an impoverished residential area of a large, West Coast city, populated primarily by blacks and Hispanics. The time period is apparently the late 1950s or early 1960s.
(The entire section is 55 words.)
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In his afterword to Durango Street, Bonham notes that he wants Rufus Henry to represent the fears, dreams, and potential of all disadvantaged youths. Thus, although the author depicts Rufus's often violent and antisocial actions, he also presents the reflection, analysis, and fantasy that occupy his inner life. By alternating the dialogue of Rufus and his peers with Rufus's interior monologue, Bonham helps the reader see beyond the gang member stereotype, showing the conflicting emotions and vulnerability that lie beneath Rufus's tough image.
Although the tension between Rufus and Alex Robbins and the conflict between the Moors and the Gassers propel the plot forward, Bonham effectively uses his secondary characters to contrast Rufus with his environment. Bantu, for example, serves as a warning about Rufus's possible future, showing what he will be like if he remains in the gang until he becomes incapable of finding a life anywhere else.
Bonham's carefully drawn setting portrays Durango Street as a negative force against which Rufus must battle. More than just a squalid, grimy slum, Durango Street, as Bonham describes it in the first chapters, is a realm of discouragement and fear to its residents. There is also a vivid irony in the fact that the Moors' favorite hangout is called "The Happy Spot" and that the area's religious center is "The Church of the Living God." Bonham's ability to evoke the strong sense of inertia and despair that...
(The entire section is 248 words.)
Although his subject is a rough, antisocial element of the population, Bonham neither sensationalizes nor romanticizes gang society. Rather, he aims to dramatize the factors that feed such gangs and show that gang violence only promotes more violence. The gang culture of the 1960s that Bonham portrays in his novel seems far less brutal than contemporary gang society, where drug wars dominate most activity. Although he condemns drug use as self-destructive in the novel, Bonham does not specifically focus on either the drug market or on racial tensions, two commonly discussed aspects of contemporary gang culture. Instead, he chooses to direct the reader's attention to the fact that the gang members operate, not out of violent urges or criminal behavior, but out of fear and self-protection in a harsh environment.
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Topics for Discussion
1. Rufus replaces Bantu as leader of the Moors without a "duel to the death." What in Rufus's character establishes him as the new leader?
2. What similarities do you see between the Moors and the typical groups of teenagers to be found in American high schools?
3. How does the environment of Durango Street contribute to the existence of street gangs such as the Moors? Have conditions changed since the 1960s?
4. Rufus's admiration for Ernie Brown seems to go beyond the fact that Ernie is a sports hero. What are the qualities and accomplishments that Rufus admires?
5. At the conclusion of the novel, the Moors' problem with the Gassers is not resolved, yet the ending is a positive one. Why is this so and what do you think the next phase of the confrontation will be?
6. Rufus has nothing but distrust for the social worker at Pine Valley, but he trusts Alex Robbins. Why?
7. According to Rufus, what happens to those who do not join gangs on Durango Street?
8. What impact does family life have upon gang members and their behavior? Give specific examples.
9. Why does Rufus risk being sent back to Pine Valley when he purposely gets himself fired from the tire shop?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Adolescent drug use and suicide seem to have replaced juvenile delinquency as a concern in the eyes of adults. Research adolescent social problems of the 1950s and 1960s and report on how conditions have changed and why.
2. Many books and articles were written during the 1960s about gangs and delinquency. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast the "experts'" opinions with Bonham's attitude in the novel.
3. Many novels, plays, or biographies revolve around a young man or woman who must battle against his or her environment in order to achieve success. Compare or contrast Rufus's "battle" with a similar character from another literary work or a biography.
4. In the afterword to Durango Street, Bonham notes that many authorities believe that racial discrimination is a major factor in the creation of gangs. Discuss how prejudice and discrimination influence young people. Refer to biographies, fiction, or real events.
5. Summarize Alex Robbins's philosophy about dealing with street gangs. Do you agree with it? Would this approach be effective today?
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For Further Reference
De Montreville, Doris, and Donna Hill, eds. Third Book of Junior Authors. Chicago: H. W. Wilson, 1972. Includes a biographical sketch of Bonham with some comments on his writing.
Kirkpatrick, D. L., ed. Twentieth-Century Children's Writers. New York: St. Martin's, 1978. Contains a biographical sketch of Bonham.
Varless, Jana. Young Adult Literature in the 1970s. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1978. Discusses Bonham's endorsement of traditional values and his notion that violence engenders violence.
(The entire section is 70 words.)