Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Learning young that you have very little of what we philosophers like to call free will can make your life simple, especially when it comes to something like following rules.
Luther does not have a warm relationship with his mother. This quote illustrates how she has effectively trained him to obey without thinking. When it comes to her mandates, Luther has no free will and no wiggle room. This helps the reader understand why Luther accepts so much unkindness and so many heavy-duty assignments from the Sarge.
What’s hard is a stupid little picture drawn by a little mostly-As student who’s got a dope fiend momma. What’s hard is knowing that that girl was gonna be living in a busted-up Impala until her momma drags her into some other hole to live. What’s hard is wondering, and I know some philosopher somewhere has wondered this and probably figured out to the day, how much longer that little girl has before she’s been beaten down so bad that being room C’s Citizen of the Month doesn’t mean a thing. What’s hard is knowing that KeeKee may be six or seven now but in three or four years she’ll be thirty.
Here, a promising little girl, her good grades and artwork posted proudly on the refrigerator, has a depressing future laid out inescapably before her. Simply because of the circumstances of her birth, little KeeKee may not have long to maintain her innocence and zest for life before the hard realities of life and poverty beat her down. Luther has immense empathy for her, but he doesn't know what to do to fix this desperate situation.
You know just like I do, Flint’s nothing but the Titanic, Luther. And the last life preservers they handed out were jobs in the factories back in 1976. Nowadays if you don’t go to college you might as well start practicing saying ‘Would you like to Jumbo-Size that Chuckie meal?’ Back in the day my uncle said even if you didn’t finish high school you could still get a job on the line in the factory and make enough cash to buy a new Buick every four years or buy a house or buy some clothes from Hudson’s or afford cable TV or a legal satellite. You can’t do nothing with two minimum-wage jobs now. Seems like the only way to get paid is being a stickup kid, booming weed or suing someone.
Sparky’s determination to escape Flint is clear. He reflects on how it used to be, back in the days when a manual labor job could really support a family, and compares it to the sad state of affairs he sees nowadays, when hardworking people can barely afford to survive. With this tragically accurate assessment of his community, Sparky gives context to the story and underlines the need to make some kind of positive change in his life.
I remember thinking it was like the sweetest butter and the brownest brown sugar and the darkest chocolate in the world had melted together, then had life breathed into them by a kind and loving God.
In Luther's eyes, Shayla Patrick is perfection, a beautiful thing given by God to make the earth a brighter, sweeter place. He continues to love her, in spite of the fact that their relationship is far from friendly, perhaps as a means of holding on to the one pure, unsullied thing in his life. Even if the Sarge, her shady business practices, and Luther's own anxieties about the future get overwhelming, Luther can still look at his feelings for Shayla as something that belongs entirely to him, and relish in the sweetness of young love.