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At the start of The Friends by Rosa Guy, Phyllisia Cathay, the protagonist of the story, is an outsider in her school in Harlem because she comes from the West Indies and speaks with an unfamiliar accent. Even worse, she is intelligent, and enjoys answering questions in class, being proud rather than ashamed of her academic abilities. The only person who wants to be friends with Phyllisia is Edith, but Edith is from a poor family and dresses badly, so Phyllisia is embarrassed to be seen in her company. Although Phyllisia does manage to get away from a physical attack by a bully, Beulah, when she returns to school she is attacked verbally by other students until Edith defends her.
The main problem Phyllisia continues to face in her relationship with Edith is that she basically enjoys Edith's company but is made uncomfortable by Edith's grubby clothing and poverty. There is constant tension in the story between wanting to be friends with Edith and not wanting to be identified as her friend. At the end of the story, with the death of Phyllisia's mother and the tragedies that happen to Edith's family, Phyllisia finally comes to realize that she really does want to be Edith's friend and that she has been wrong in rejecting her, and the two girls reconcile with each other.
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