How does one summarize chapters in Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When summarizing any text, what you want to look for are the important details. Think about the characters in the text and what events take place. You especially want to think about the author's underlying message, or theme. A theme is any idea within the work that is referred to repeatedly. It can be a moralĀ  or just an idea, like poverty, crime, or selfishness. Jonathan Kozol wrote the non-fiction book Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation to expose the atrocities concerning how our nation deals with and segregates the poorest of the poor. Specifically, he describes conditions in South Bronx, an area that is described as "one of the largest and poorest racially segregated areas in the United States" (eNotes, "Summary"). What's more he uses the book to point out that many of the area's atrocious conditions are due to prejudiced and selfish Conservative political thinking. Hence, some of the main themes in the book are impoverished conditions, crime rates, lack of education for the poor, and the negative, selfish attitude of the Conservatives. As we are limited in space, below are a few ideas to help get you started.

In the first chapter, Kozol lays out the setting of South Bronx, especially the neighborhood of Mott Haven, that serves as the premise of his book. He shows how the poorest of the poor are segregated from the rich along Brook Avenue, the poorest area being Mott Haven in South Bronx. He describes how in the 1990s the average income of those in Mott Haven was only $7,500 and how all but 5 schoolchildren qualify for free lunches. He describes the area as a ghetto in the truest sense and describes all of the drug dealers and users the children of the area are subjected to. He describes how the government-subsidized tenement buildings do not have adequate heating for the freezing cold New York winters and how the government will pass out blankets and sleeping bags, and tenants will "just cover up ... and hope [they] wake up the next morning" (p. 3). He describes the tenement building as being both roach and rat infested. Kozol also introduces us to some of the persons he relays in the book, especially the congregants of St. Ann's Episcopal church, which stands in one of the deadliest areas in the city due to homicide rates. We especially meet a little boy named Cliffie who takes Kozol as the narrator for a walk around the neighborhood. Through Cliffie's commentary, we learn about the waste incinerator and the areas full of drug dealers and prostitutes. We especially learn that the city of New York is essentially herding homeless people to the area of Mott Haven. We are also introduced to Alice Washington, who is dying of AIDS, and how the AIDS virus is at epidemic rates in the area due to heroine addicts and prostitutes. Finally, we further learn about the inadequacies of the hospital care in the area, especially of the emergency room death rate. Hence, as we can see, Kozol uses all of these details to elaborate on his theme of poverty, impoverished conditions, and lack of government assistance.