How come Kenny from "The Watson's Go to Birmingham-1963" falls into an emotional collapse when his sister is supposedly dead?I mean, if you're sister's dead, she's dead, right?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Everyone reacts to emotional trauma in different ways, and sometimes we can only guess why an individual responds the way he does.  In Kenny's case, keep in mind that the bombing of the church is the second hugely disturbing event he had experienced in a week since coming to Birmingham; a few days earlier, Kenny himself had almost lost his life swimming in the forbidden waters of Collier's Landing when he was caught in a whirlpool.

The ill effects of Kenny's own earlier brush with death are still with him the morning of the bombing.  Kenny is "weak and tired" all the time, and forgetful as well.  He calls to Joetta as she leaves for church, then cannot remember why.  He then just tells her how pretty she looks in her "shiny black shoes".

In the turmoil that comes after the bomb goes off, Kenny wanders over to the church, feeling like he is "floating".  The scene he encounters is horrific, but surrealistic to him, until he finds a "shiny black shoe" sticking out from under the rubble, and senses the presence of the "Wool Pool" there, the specter of death.

It would appear that the experience of seeing the carnage and finding what seems to be the body of his sister is just too much for Kenny, who is already in a fragile emotional state.  As he so astutely observes, "I guess...(I) just couldn't take (it)", so he shuts down and withdraws mentally and physically from a world which has become too threatening (Chapter 14).

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The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963

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