Warriors Don't Cry

by Melba Pattillo Beals

Start Free Trial

In Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals, what problems and solutions did the characters encounter?

Quick answer:

The problems faced by the characters in Warriors Don't Cry include death threats and hatred leveled at the Black community. Our protagonist, Melba, must suffer having acid and dynamite thrown on her, as well as sexual abuse.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The problems that Melba Pattillo and her compatriots faced was racism in its ugliest form. While merely trying to get an education at high school in Little Rock, Melba must deal with death threats, being spat on, having a stick of dynamite thrown in her direction, having some kind of acid thrown in her face, and various other types of physical and emotional abuse. Over and above these life-changing occurrences, Melba suffers the seemingly simpler ails of being isolated from her peers and not getting to have any of the normal high school experiences.

Over and above this, Melba was sexually assaulted as a child, and has to deal with all the emotional ramifications of this.

Melba was not the only Black person in the Little Rock vicinity to have hatred unleashed on her during this time. The entire Black community suffered job losses, closure of their business, and loss of their homes during this time.

The long term solutions to their problems are, in many ways, still to come. They lie in universal acceptance and tolerance of those different from ourselves. In the immediate term, however, Melba relied on her loving grandmother and her faith in God to bring her through these tough times.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main problem that the nine black students face is the resistance of the white students to their presences at the high school. Melba Pattillo Beals names some of her enemies: a boy named Andy and a girl named Sammy Jo Parker, who takes part in an interview with The New York Times in which she says that she suspects that the black students are being paid by the NAACP to attend Central High.

The students contend with the general problem of the white segregationists not understanding that they are not conspiracists but simply fellow teenagers who want to attend a quality school. However, the most pervasive problem is the daily violence to which the black students are subjected. Melba describes instances in which her life is threatened, including an attempt by a group of white girls to set her on fire while she is using a bathroom stall. Worse, many of the white teachers and administrators are unsympathetic to the fears expressed by Melba and the other students and even accuse them of imagining the violent harassment. Thus, the students have to contend with these problems on their own.

To help her maintain her mental strength, Melba depends greatly on her mother and grandmother. She also finds solace in her faith in God and reads about the non-violent civil disobedience of Mahatma Gandhi.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Some specific problems Melba faces throughout the book all trace to the prevailing racist attitude in Little Rock.

Melba is unable to enter the school on her first scheduled day. On her first day at school with the other students, she has to be escorted secretly from the building to avoid an angry mob outside; she even overhears an adult in the principal’s office suggest that one of the students he offered up to appease the mob. After that, Melba has a personal escort Danny, a member of the 101st Airborne Division. Danny saves Melba twice from potentially life-threatening situations. The first of these is a stick of dynamite that is hurled down the stairs at Melba. The second is when Melba gets an unidentified acidic chemical splashed in her eyes. These severe instances of bullying are extreme examples of how the racist attitudes of the city impacted Melba’s daily life.

She also receives little support from the adult teachers. On top of this, Melba has to deal with threats of violence at her home.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Warriors Don't Cry, the main problem that Melba and the other members of the Little Rock Nine faced was integrating Central High School in 1957-1958. Some of the white students at the school harassed the Little Rock Nine, while others even assaulted them or threw objects at them. In the face of danger, pressure, and harassment, the Little Rock Nine had to get through the school year by employing different solutions. Melba Pattillo, the author of the book, survived by imagining that she was a warrior doing battle in the school. She steeled herself for violence and attacks each day; she could not respond with violence, but she did respond with constant vigilance and mental toughness. The other students handled the violence and harassment in different ways; for example, Minnijean Brown dropped a tray loaded with chili on some students and then was expelled from school for calling some girls "white trash." The other students lasted out the year, and then the school closed rather than integrate.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial