Themes and Characters

Rufus Henry is the main character of the novel. Growing up in the rough neighborhood of Durango Street has made him perceptive enough to be suspicious of authorities who simply view him as a case study or a social misfit. A natural athlete and leader, Rufus realizes that under different conditions, or "normal" conditions, as he calls them, he would be a star athlete, an adept school politician, and a useful member of the community. He obviously considers his environment not just poor or dangerous, but abnormal, outside of the mainstream. He feels that because he was born into this environment, society automatically branded him abnormal as well, an outcast from the majority white society. Bonham shows that Rufus's defiance and his anti-social acts are a response to the treatment he receives from others and the way of life he has known from childhood.

Rufus's only escape, aside from his gang life with the Moors, is a fantasy life described early in the novel, in which he goes to Africa and becomes chief of a lawless tribe. Similarly, his Ernie Brown scrapbook allows him to share indirectly the glory of the professional athlete and provides him with an honorary, idealized father. Although he senses his potential to become a teacher or youth counselor, Rufus has been conditioned to think that self-preservation is his career; to hope for more is to experience what the black poet Langston Hughes terms "a dream deferred."

Rufus's hero, Ernie Brown, plays a pivotal role in the novel. Rufus has been led to believe that Ernie is his biological father, and because Ernie is a tough, professional athlete who has "made it" outside of Durango Street, Rufus idolizes him. Eventually, Rufus reaches the important understanding that, like Ernie, he must look "one step ahead" in life and not yield to the spur of the moment. Ernie teaches Rufus to take pride in...

(The entire section is 762 words.)