Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America, Geoffrey Canada’s first published book, is the story of his childhood and youth in the South Bronx. As the subtitle indicates, the book also offers his perspective on the issues that have made life in U.S. inner cities increasingly dangerous for children. Ghetto life was brutal enough while Canada grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, as he recalls in countless painful vignettes. That violence, though, was at least governed by a code of street honor: Any show of fear would be cruelly punished, but youths were to fight fairly, and weapons were generally limited to fists, sticks, and knives—the first three words of the book’s title. A turning point came later, when guns became increasingly common on inner-city streets.

As an adult, Canada has worked to help low-income urban children escape from the cycle of poverty and indiscriminate gun violence that, since the 1970’s, has defined life for many denizens of the nation’s inner cities. He was born in 1952, the third of four brothers raised by their mother. The children’s father left the family early on. Geoffrey’s first lesson in street fighting comes when a boy steals his brother’s jacket and Mrs. Canada orders her two oldest sons to retrieve it. Mastering their fear of a possible beating from the thief, they soon return triumphantly with the jacket. For the young Canada, the primary lesson of the episode is that...

(The entire section is 596 words.)