How is Rufus' life different in Arkansas than it is in Flint, in the book The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rufus and his family apparently live in poverty both in Arkansas and in Flint. This is evidenced by the "raggedy" clothing that he must share with his little brother, and the indication that there is probably not enough food in the house for him and his brother to bring a lunch to school. Beyond this fact, however, life in Flint for Rufus is likely far different from what he was used to in Arkansas. In Arkansas, Rufus lived in a rural area. Wild squirrels were seen as food, in contrast to in Flint, where they are accepted as part of the city environment and left alone. When Rufus sees a squirrel across the street from the school, he is amazed at how fat it is, and how "dumb" it is to "sit out in the open...with folks all round him." Rufus notes that the squirrel "wouldn't last two seconds in Arkansas;" he himself, or any other Arkansas boy for that matter, would have "picked him off easy as nothing." Rufus is used to using a gun, a small twenty-two, for hunting, something which amazes Kenny, with his city mentality. To shoot a squirrel is a common thing in Arkansas, and it means there will be squirrel stew for supper.

Another thing that is different in Flint from the life Rufus is used to in Arkansas is the openness with which people interact with each other. Rufus speaks his mind directly; when he asks a question, it is because he honestly wants to know the answer, not because he is teasing or trying to be mean. Early on in their "friendship," Rufus asks Kenny about his "lazy eye." When the city kids bring up the subject, it is most often with unkind intent, but with Rufus, it is simply because "he really want(s) to know." Having grown up in rural Arkansas, Rufus' motivations are pure and uncomplicated, unlike those of his more street-wise counterparts in Flint. When Kenny joins in with the others who tease him, Rufus is not angry or vengeful; he is "just...real, real sad" (Chapter 3).

Read the study guide:
The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963

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