Elijah Freeman, the eleven-year-old protagonist of Elijah of Buxton, is also the humorous and engaging narrator of the story. Elijah is a good-hearted child, but, like most young teens, he gets into mischief and is not above trying to rationalize his way out of taking responsibility for getting himself into questionable situations. When the Preacher cons him into defying his parents and attending the carnival with him, Elijah protests only half-heartedly, "not minding getting painted in a corner" by the Preacher's encouragement to disobey, and when Mr. Leroy begs him to accompany him to Michigan, Elijah know his parents will "skin (him) alive" if he does, but is glad to comply as long as Mr. Leroy will take the blame. At the beginning of the story, with typical adolescent immaturity, Elijah is limited in his ability to see things from the perspectives of others. He gleefully torments Ma by putting a toady-frog in her sewing basket, but feels quite persecuted when the tables are turned and his parents put a snake in the cookie jar to teach him a lesson. At the same time, Elijah's naivete allows him to see the truth behind adult realities with marvelous clarity. It is Elijah who cannot comprehend the illogic that says that a person is a slave on one side of the river, but on the other side, he is free.
Elijah is constantly growing as a character. Excitable and perceived as "fra-gile" by his Ma and many of the community's adults, he strives to control his emotions so as to be seen as a responsible individual. Having been born free, Elijah sometimes is unappreciative of the gift he has been given, and is insensitive to the tremendous trauma with which those around him who have escaped from slavery must live. Elijah is perceptive enough to realize that lessons learned through experience are far more effective than those taught in the classroom. Although his teacher, Mr. Travis, tries to teach him not to take his freedom for granted, it is Mr. Leroy's impassioned reaction to his careless use of the...
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