Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun Critical Essays

Geoffrey Canada


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Interwoven with Canada’s personal recollections are his analyses of the forces giving rise to the “handgun” and “Uzi” generations and his proposals for stemming the tide of senseless, indiscriminate bloodshed in the United States’ inner cities. In alternating personal recollections with general observations, he conveys that Americans’ basic attitude toward violence has changed little over the decades. “Violence has always been around, usually concentrated among the poor.” Ghetto youths might live in poverty, he argues, but “if we had nothing else, we could still act as men.” Moreover, he argues, popular culture has strongly supported an ethic of violence: When Geoffrey and his friends watch film heroes like the Bowery Boys, Shaft, and Bruce Lee—men “ready to fight and even to die for what they believed in”—they know that “sooner or later violence was the way to achieve what the characters wanted.” Historically, then, violence in a good cause was considered an honorable expedient.

Canada argues, however, that the prevalence of firearms among underage people has introduced a chilling new note in the modern United States. “The nature of the violent act has changed from the fist, stick, and knife to the gun.” Implicitly, Canada sees the possession of guns as detrimental to individual character. Relying on guns for protection, contemporary youths are not forced, as were earlier generations, to develop personal courage and fighting skill. Gun culture undermines the street code of honor. Older gangsters of earlier decades, “although often ruthless, did not kill...

(The entire section is 664 words.)