What is an analysis of the character of Brick and the social issues he faces?

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mary2018 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Brick (also known as Jamie) is one of the central characters in Heidi W. Durrow's 2010 novel The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. There's a lot to talk about with respect to his character and the social issues around him. Here, we'll go over a few specific examples of moments in the novel that reveal elements of his personality and/or the social milieu he lives in.

The story opens with a major event. Young Brick is looking out the window when he sees what appears to be a large bird flying by. Shortly, he realizes it wasn't a bird but a human being (several, in fact: a neighbor family has leapt from the heights of the building). Brick is scarred by the sight of the dead mother and child splayed across the sidewalk outside the building.

Right off the bat, we learn a lot about Brick and his setting. He's a bird enthusiast, for starters, and he's sensitive: he's deeply affected by the sight of the family. We also get a sense for the kind of world Brick lives in. He lives with his drug-addicted mother in a poor area of Chicago. The woman who jumped from the building, we'll learn, was also addicted to drugs. Both families have mixed-race children, which will turn out to be a major theme in the book. Brick and Rachel (the only survivor of the family's jump from the building) will both struggle with their identities and whether to identify as black or white.

Let's look at an example of this kind of racial self-identification. Later in the story, after Rachel and Brick have become acquainted, she asks him about his racial background:

“What are you? Like black, or—like me?” Rachel asks.

“Oh, I’m black. Regular,” is his answer.

Unlike Rachel, who doesn't know where she belongs (she has light brown skin and her Danish mother's blue eyes, so she feels like she doesn't fit in with either the black or white girls at school), Brick is relatively untroubled by his racial background. In fact, he points out to Rachel that she would be more comfortable identifying as black if she didn't have blue eyes:

“Do you think people would ask you that if you didn’t have your mother’s eyes?” 

Let's look at a third example in the novel that helps us to understand Brick's character and the social issues he faces. When the story opens, Brick is not called Brick: he is Jamie. He decides to start going by the name "Brick" because he likes the strong sound of it, especially as a young boy. 

But later in the book, when Brick has grown taller and bigger (and is living on the streets, as he's run away from home), he finds that he doesn't need to look or sound any stronger than he is. As an adult black man, he needs to downplay his potentially threatening image in order to survive. This detail speaks to the social setting that he lives in and that, unfortunately, is still very much the case today: being a young black man can be dangerous, regardless of what you do, merely because of the way that other people might perceive you.

Read the study guide:
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

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