In Christopher Paul Curtis's Elijah of Buxton, how does Elijah change over the course of the novel?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Christopher Paul Curtis's Elijah of Buxton, Elijah Freeman develops most as a character when he comes to understand the evils of slavery and exactly what it means to be free. Elijah Freeman, as his name symbolizes, was the first child of African-American parents born free in Buxton, Canada, a settlement founded by African-American slaves who had escaped to Canada for freedom via the Underground Railroad. Having never experienced slavery himself, he has trouble getting his 11-year-old mind to grasp the true meaning of slavery. One example can be seen in the fact he rudely uses the word nigger, not fully understanding just how much the derogatory term is tied to hatred, until ex-slave Mr. Leroy shows him the brand on his chest and talks about his daughter and wife being taken from him. In a couple of chapters describing escaped slaves who have just reached the settlement, it's also clear that Elijah has trouble understanding why the new settlers act so frightened; he's never had to face slavery and all the fears that accompany it. However, as the novel progresses, Elijah goes on a quest with Mr. Leroy into America to find Mr. Leroy's family, and Elijah witnesses very eye-opening treatment of slaves. Elijah experiences his greatest moment of growth when he realizes he will not be able to free all the slaves he wants to and instead must agree to only carry the baby into safety.