Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation

by Jonathan Kozol
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What is the structure and organization of Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation?

The structure and organization of Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation is chronological. Written in a one-year period between the summers of 1993 and 1994, the nonfiction book places the thoughts of the children and adults living in dire poverty in Mott Haven, South Bronx, New York City, at the center of the narrative. Author Jonathan Kozol lays out problems but provides no solutions, leaving those to the readers.

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Jonathan Kozol, in writing about the chaos and poverty that surround the children of Mott Haven, South Bronx, New York City, is able to bring structure and organization to Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation.

The chapters of Kozol’s nonfiction book are in chronological order. The chronological structure and organization of Kozol’s masterpiece underlie the facts Kozol provides and the many conversations he conducted with children and adults in a six-block area of Mott Haven.

Kozol starts his narrative in 1993. In chapter 6, he says: “Already in 1993, when I began to visit in the South Bronx ...” In his epilogue, he says: “A few weeks earlier, the TV news reported that a comet was expected to collide with Jupiter.” NASA reported that the comet would collide with Jupiter in mid-July 1994; therefore, we know Kozol conducted interviews and observed life in Mott Haven over a one-year period. Of course, we can assume he took months to write the book as he reviewed his notes and tape recordings. In his Note to the Reader at the beginning of the book, he does tell us he went back to visit Mott Haven approximately fifty more times after publishing the book.

At the end of chapter 6, Kozol states: “I don’t really think I will make sense of anything and I don’t expect that I’ll be able to construct a little list of answers and ‘solutions,’ as my editor would like.” It is clear that he records multiple problems in Mott Haven, but he never attempts to give solutions. Likewise, he provides the reader with many effects—poverty, sickness, sanitation disasters, fires, deaths, lack of adequate healthcare, inadequate education, inadequate pubic services and safety—yet he doesn’t provide the reader with any conclusions about exactly what the causes were that resulted in these effects. His interviewees say “they” or “policies” are the cause, but Kozol provides few exact causes laid out in any organized way.

Kozol’s goal is for the reader to imbibe the messages of the children and adults he interviews. In chapter 1, he asks,

What is it like for children to grow up here? What do they think the world has done to them? Do they believe that they are shunned or hidden by society? If so, do they think that they deserve this? What is it that enables some of them to pray? When they pray, what do they say to God?

Kozol wants readers to ask these questions themselves, as well as to determine how they themselves might be part of the solution.

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