Themes and Meanings
Toni Cade Bambara first published this story in Redbook as “I Ain’t Playin, I’m Hurtin”—a title that aptly conveys the pain and disillusionment that a sensitive, spunky young girl experiences as she grows up. Bright and sassy, Hazel is proud of her own accomplishments; she even boasts, “I am the smartest kid P.S. 186 ever had in its whole lifetime and you can ax anybody.” She is also tough—a girl who will “jump on they back and fight awhile” when boys pick on her or her brothers in the park. She stands up to the big boys in the neighborhood who try to steal money from the younger children or “take Big Brood’s Spaudeen way from him.” She is an outspoken, determined person with a strong sense of right and wrong. We learn that she “won’t back off” when the teachers tell her that her “questions are out of order.” She also has a strong conviction that people should stand by what they say. As she puts it: “Even gangsters in the movies say ’My word is my bond.’”
From a child’s point of view, Bambara describes a neighborhood filled with colorful characters. Critical of many of the people in her neighborhood, Hazel makes fun of the “chunky” matron who charges down the aisle with her flashlight to keep order in the theater, and she regards with contempt the “oily and pasty” manager who looks at her as if she has lost her mittens or is “somebody’s retarded child.”
In contrast to the...
(The entire section is 598 words.)