illustrated close-up of Kenny Watson with fire in the background behind him

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963

by Christopher Paul Curtis

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What is the theme of The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963?

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As we follow the hilarious and moving escapades of the Watson family from the point of view of the tender and young Kenny, a number of themes seem to emerge as Kenny grows up through what he witnesses and experiences. One of the really interesting features of this novel is the way that historical fact and fiction are intertwined in the bombing in Birmingham. This obviously has a profound impact on Kenny, as we see in Chapter Fifteen. However, one of the themes that we can see emerging from this excellent novel comes when Kenny is forced to open up by his brother, Byron. When Kenny asks why the bombing happened, and expressed that it wasn't fair, Byron responds:

"Kenny, things ain't ever going to be fair. How's it fair that two grown men could hate Negroes so much that they'd kill some kids just to stop them from going to school? How's it fair that even though the cops down there might know who did it nothing will probably ever happen to those men? It ain't. But you just gotta understand that that's the way it is and keep on steppin'."

This seems to sum up one of the essential themes that the author is trying to communicate. In a backdrop of violent racist incidents, life definitely isn't fair. But somehow, you have to accept this fact and keep on going forward, regardless, because if you stop your life and live it filled with fear, then those who are opposed against you have won.

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