In Claude Brown's autobiographical novel Manchild in the Promised Land, what does Sonny learn about himself over the course of his journey?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Claude Brown's autobiographical novel Manchild in the Promised Land, one of the most influential things Sonny learns in his journey growing up in Harlem is that education is far more powerful than, as Tyrone Williams, editor of Literary Essentials: African American Literature, phrases it, "the gun, fist, or gang" (eNotes, "Summary"). Sonny learns this lesson when he meets Mr. Papenek, the administrator of the Wiltwyck School, a school for delinquents Sonny is sent to after being arrested for stealing.

Sonny saw Mr. Papenek as one who was kind and knowledgeable, and it was his kindness and knowledge that were so influential in Sonny's life. Sonny used to skip school just to visit Mr. Papenek in his office and was always greeted with a smile, except when it was obvious Sonny was upset about something. When Sonny was upset, they would sit down and talk, and Mr. Papenek would comfort Sonny with his stories.

To Sonny, Mr. Papenek most displayed his intelligence and education in his ability to read people. As Sonny phrases it, Mr. Papenek "had the ability to see everybody as they really are--just people, no more and no less," which made him very likable (109). What's more, Mr. Papenek had a "way of making the whole world seem beautiful and making everybody in life seem important" (109). Hence, since through Mr. Papenek Sonny was valued as a person for the first time in his life, Sonny was able to see himself as valuable and just how much obtaining intelligence through education would increase his sense of value.

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