Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

InA Choice of Weapons, a traditional autobiography in twenty-four chapters, Gordon Parks covers fifteen years in his eventful life. The narrative begins when Parks, the youngest of thirteen children, is sixteen years old. His mother has just died, and the family honors her last wish—that Parks leave Kansas and move north to St. Paul, Minnesota, to live with his sister. In the first few chapters, Parks describes growing up in Kansas, material that is also covered in detail in his classic, autobiographical young adult novel, The Learning Tree (1963).

In St. Paul, Parks ended up living on the streets; he was completely alone in a nightmarish, violent world, trying to earn enough money to feed himself and to stay in high school. At times, he led an almost satisfactory life, as when he was a waiter for an exclusive St. Paul club; usually, he was hungry and insecure. He tried to escape to Chicago but could find no work there. He had some limited success as a musical composer, toured with a band, and eventually arrived penniless in Harlem. Unable to survive there, Parks joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which brought enough stability to his life to enable him to marry Sally Alvis, his longtime girlfriend from St. Paul.

The last eight chapters of A Choice of Weapons cover the period from 1937, when Parks was twenty-five, to 1943. During this period, Parks’s restlessness was finally stilled when he found a...

(The entire section is 449 words.)