What are Bud's rules in Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis? Why does Bud have these rules? What do the rules tell you about Bud's character?

In Bud, Not Buddy, Bud has a large set of rules and other things to guide his conduct and interactions. He created the rules to establish structure and stability in his otherwise insecure life. Despite these uncertainties, he hopes to make his life “funner.” His distrust of other people, especially adults, and of institutions is reflected in his suggestions for becoming a “better liar.”

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Based on the numbering system that Bud has for his rules, we can tell that there are many of them. For example, rule 118 involves giving adults “Something That They Think They Can Use To Hurt You.” The next rule we read about, which is rule 328, involves not procrastinating and doing something as soon as you have made up your mind to do so. Another rule mentioned is rule number 83, which essentially says that when an adult tells you not to worry, it’s time to start worrying. In summary, Bud’s rules are a mechanism that he uses to keep himself cheerful and protect himself while living in the foster care system.

The purpose of all Bud’s rules can be summed up in the title of his list of rules:

Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself

In a nutshell, these rules are Bud’s way of ensuring that he has fun and protects himself in the tough foster care scenario in which he is being raised. This is linked to the reason that Bud has these rules. He is enduring a tough upbringing, and has realized that nobody is going to take care of him other than himself. These rules are designed to prevent him from getting into unnecessary trouble and to protect him from getting hurt.

When it comes to Bud’s character, I would argue that these rules tell us, based on the way that they are worded, that Bud has a great sense of humor. They also tell us that he is resilient and wise to the ways of the foster system.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As an orphan, Bud naturally leads a pretty unstable life. Constantly moving around from place to place, he lacks the security that a child with a loving family would take for granted.

So, in order to give some structure to his life, and to make his life a little more fun, he devises a set of rules. Among other things, these rules will also make Bud a better liar, which he finds to be an essential skill when dealing with adults, many of whom are themselves thoroughly dishonest.

Bud's rules are drawn from common experience, and so it's perhaps inevitable that other people appear to follow them. One such individual is the abusive, bullying Todd Amos, whose mom and dad are Bud's latest foster parents. He seems to be following Number 3 of Bud's rules, which states,

If you got to tell a lie, make sure it's simple and easy to remember.

Or, to put it another way, in order to be a good liar, you have to have a good memory. Otherwise, it's likely you'll get found out.

Todd's lie—that Bud physically attacked him—is indeed very simple and easy to remember, not least because Todd only just made up the lie. In actual fact, he was the one who attacked Bud. But because Todd's mother thinks that butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, she immediately believes him.

On the whole, Bud's rules are pretty handy and give structure to his otherwise chaotic existence. But other people can use them too, and they can use them against Bud. And when they do, as in the case of Todd, they can actually undermine whatever limited stability Bud has managed to introduce into his life.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Throughout Bud, Not Buddy, the ten-year-old boy who is the protagonist is often on his own and trying to find his father, all the while staying out of the juvenile social service system. To help him safely navigate this insecure existence, he creates and keeps in mind “Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.”

Acknowledging the reality of numerous hardships in his life, including his mother’s death, Bud is nevertheless determined to find joy where he can. This positive attitude is reflected in his stated goal to have more fun in life. Bud has also learned through experience that adults cannot always be trusted. He knows that if he is completely truthful, the adults he encounters will feel obligated to call social services; this would mean, at best, being placed again in foster care, and at worst, a return to the dreaded “Home” for orphaned children. This suspicious attitude is shown in the second purpose of the rules, which is to improve his skill at lying.

Creating, retaining, and adapting hundreds of rules also shows that Bud is an intelligent, insightful, and organized person. The list grows quite long as he adds new items based on his experiences, as well as altering existing items when applying them to a new situation did not lead to the desired result.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Bud's rules are simple reminders of how he should react throughout various difficult situations. His rules are based on past experiences but are generalizations and only apply to very specific situations. Since Bud is an orphan and has no caregiver or role model, he is forced to essentially raise himself, and learn from his own mistakes. The way Bud learns from his mistakes and seeks not to repeat them again is to remember various rules in what Bud calls, "Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself." Many of Bud's rules reflect his naive childhood innocence and seem ridiculous. For example, in Chapter 7 Bud asks the librarian where Miss Hill is, and she says, "Miss Hill? My goodness, hadn't you heard" (Curtis 55). Bud recalls Rule Number 16: "If a Grown-up Ever Starts a Sentence by Saying "Haven't You Heard," Get Ready, 'Cause What's About to Come Out of Their Mouth Is Gonna Drop You Head first into a Boiling Tragedy" (Curtis 56). Bud's rule is clearly based off of a negative past experience and he is expecting to hear tragic news about Miss Hill. However, Bud is pleasantly surprised to find out that nothing bad happened to Miss Hill, and that she has just moved to Chicago after marrying the love of her life. These generalized rules reveal Bud's naive way of thinking and depict the numerous negative life experiences he has encountered. His rules are not reliable and are continually proven wrong. As Bud matures, he will not be forced to remember rules to keep him from repeating past mistakes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial