A Choice of Weapons

by Gordon Parks Sr.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The American Dream

Jordon Parks' autobiography, A Choice Of Weapons, is a classic example of an individual starting from the bottom and taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the American system in order to achieve success. Parks' rise from poverty and obscurity proves that with determination and a willingness to endure hardship, pathways will open to one living in the United States. However, this work is far from a celebration of the American system. While success is possible, Parks is clear in his illustrations of his own suffering and the suffering of those he encountered that the United States during the era of the Great Depression was a cruel place where only the strongest and most hardworking would achieve their objectives.


Inequality is highlighted throughout Parks' work, especially the inequalities between ethnic groups and social classes in the 1930s United States. From the years he spent struggling for employment on the streets of American cities, to his travels as a performing musician, to his later involvement with prominent African American activists such as Walter White, Parks identifies proudly as a working class black man living in the United States, regularly contrasting himself with the affluent white establishment with whom he interacts. While he entertains feelings of resentment against such individuals, he also describes how in his younger years, he looked to them as a source of opportunity, and he might even be said to have been assimilated with them as a successful photographer working with the FSA.


As a teenager, Parks overcame the temptations of vice and crime that prove a pitfall for so many impoverished people. He did this by depending on the few certainties he had to rely on: namely, his talents as a musician, his desire for self-improvement, and the influence of his mother, who died when he was sixteen. In his preference for writing memoirs such as this work, or at least novels with distinct autobiographical influences such as The Learning Tree, Parks endeavors to define who he truly is. In his is identification with those who he shares a racial or financial background with, Parks seems to find an element of direction—but he is still engaged in an ongoing search to understand himself and tthe world around him better.

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