How are Byron and Grandma Sands alike in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963?

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On the surface, the teenage Byron Watson and the elderly Grandma Sands may seem completely different. Byron is deeply attached to his urban lifestyle and is dismayed at the thought of spending a summer in Alabama, which he thinks of as backward. Grandma is uninterested in big city ways and is devoted to her small home and yard. In this regard, however, they are similar in that both are closely attached to their immediate environment.

Another similarity is their outer toughness or “meanness,” according to Kenny. Byron has learned to survive amongst an unruly crowd of teenagers by acting as tough as, or tougher than, the other boys. Unfortunately, he lacks a sense of moderation and has gotten into trouble with some of his escapades. Beneath this exterior, however, Byron is a caring, even sentimental person. Although he teases and sometimes bullies his brother, he cares deeply for him and even saves his life.

Kenny is apprehensive about meeting his grandmother for the first time because Byron described her as “the meanest, ugliest person in the world.” At the same time, he looks forward to their reunion because he believes in their basic similarity: “These were the two meanest, most evil people I’d ever known.” Grandma does act bossy, but her commands are loving. She orders all the children to give her proper hugs, even Byron when he holds back. Although tiny, she has an authoritative presence, packing a lot of meaning into a few worlds. Kenny remarks on their similarity.

Wow! I could see where Byron learned to say a couple of words and have people think he’d said a whole bunch more!

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