Although Wes was only three when his mother, Joy, moved to New York with her children, the relocation clearly made an impression on him. He prefaces the information about their move with his memories of his mother’s state of mind in the weeks that preceded her decision. The move involved...
Although Wes was only three when his mother, Joy, moved to New York with her children, the relocation clearly made an impression on him. He prefaces the information about their move with his memories of his mother’s state of mind in the weeks that preceded her decision. The move involved both leaving Maryland, where they had lived with Wes’s father, and going to live with her parents. The major catalyst for her decision was the death of Wes’s father, which he described in chapter 1, as the result of a virus that the hospital misdiagnosed and failed to treat not once but twice. In addition, the conditions in their neighborhood were deteriorating, with people feeling unsafe even in their homes because of a rash of break-ins.
West describes waking up thirsty one night and finding his mother in a despairing frame of mind. Although she had good friends nearby, he concludes, that was not enough to help her recover enough to move forward with her life and theirs:
She needed help only her parents could provide.
Because Wes was so small, the impact of his father’s death and the transition to living in New York were much harder for his sister, Nikki, who was seven years older, than it was for him. Although they were warmly welcomed by Joy’s loving parents, whom the children already knew, the Bronx neighborhood where they lived had changed as well. Joy remembered the Bronx of her own childhood, growing up in the home that her parents owned. Now the neighborhood was afflicted with much the same problems she had wanted to leave behind in Maryland.
Joy’s determination that Wes get an excellent education in part offset the difficulties he faced on the streets. It is clear from his presentation that he understands and appreciates the choices she made. However, he felt “caught in the middle” between the elite, white world at Riverdale School and the working-class, black environment around their home. This discomfort would contribute to his bad behavior, which later led to his attending a residential military school.