How do the kids’ feelings about the painter using their wall change throughout the passage?

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Toni Cade Bambara ’s story uses a single incident to illuminate the way that community is constructed and contested. While art plays a central role in revising the narrator’s understanding of what community means, during most of the story there is a very strong insider versus outsider contrast. The first-person...

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Toni Cade Bambara’s story uses a single incident to illuminate the way that community is constructed and contested. While art plays a central role in revising the narrator’s understanding of what community means, during most of the story there is a very strong insider versus outsider contrast. The first-person narrator, who does not provide their name, is close to their own family members and identifies strongly with children and adults in their neighborhood. The wall belongs to them, the narrator reasons, because it has continued to play a role in their leisure activities during a time when other possibilities closed to them. It is their use of the site, not just its physical location within their neighborhood, that makes the wall theirs. The collective identity includes their younger selves (“since we were little kids”), “big kids,” and “old folks.”

After the painter lady completes the mural on the wall, she simply leaves it for the community to behold; she does not try to claim a spot among them except by writing a brief statement of dedication that mentions that she is actually related to a young man , Jimmy Lyons, who the narrator had earlier identified as a deceased community member: “he was never coming home….” Chiseling Jimmy’s name, with which the narrator helped their brother Lou, was one specific action that had made the wall theirs.

Until the children look at the completed wall, which includes portraits of them, their antagonism had not diminished. In fact, the siblings had spent their pocket money to purchase spray paint with the intention of vandalizing the painter lady’s work. Lou’s shock is registered in relation to his rejecting that plan: “Lou gasped and dropped the paint bag and ran forward….” Through the rainbow surrounding Jimmy, the painter lady’s incorporation into their community is achieved.

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The narrator and her cousin, Lou, resent the "painter lady" coming in to "mess with" their wall. She says that they have been "pitching pennies" against the wall for many years and the older people always bring their chairs out to sit there. When the lady ignores them and climbs up her ladder with the bucket of paint, the narrator is even tempted to shake the ladder, but Lou stops her. Later, after school, the narrator sees the painter lady refuse the dinner offered to her by a local family, "wagging her head as though something terrible was on the plate," and Lou has to drag the narrator away because she is so mad. She and Lou both want to "run the painter lady out of town," and they spend the weekend trying to come up with ways to "recapture" their wall from the painter lady who seems so rude to them (she does not eat pork). On Monday, they even go so far as to purchase a can of spray paint with the avowed intention of using it to ruin whatever the painter lady is painting on their wall. In the end, when they see what the lady has painted, Lou "gasped and dropped the paint bag and ran forward, running his hands over a rainbow." The painter, it turns out, is the cousin of a young man named Jimmy Lyons, a young man from the neighborhood who has died in the Vietnam conflict. She'd found where the kids had chiseled Jimmy's name in the wall and painted a rainbow there to memorialize him. The kids' feelings about the painter, it is implied, change quite a bit in the end.

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At first, the narrator and her cousin, Lou, are pretty annoyed at the lady painting the mural on "their" wall. For years, this wall has been used by all members of the community; it's come to symbolize the strength and togetherness of that community for generations. But along comes this strange woman, from out of town, no less, who spends the whole day painting on the wall, making no effort to ingratiate herself with the locals despite numerous overtures of friendliness.

The narrator and Lou are determined to drive this stranger from their midst. They hatch all kinds of cruel plans which they hope will restore "their" wall to its rightful owners. They even come up with the bold—and criminal—idea of wrecking the painter lady's handiwork by spraying it over with graffiti.

Thankfully, nothing comes of this vicious little scheme. When Lou and the narrator return to the wall, hell bent on destroying the mural, they see a large, appreciative crowd gathered round. The painter lady has left behind a big, colorful mural depicting some of the greatest African-Americans in history. Not only that, but the narrator is amazed to see herself and Lou are also represented on this astonishing work of street art. In the face of such extraordinary talent, Lou and the narrator can only join with the rest of the community in standing before the mural in awestruck admiration.

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