illustrated close-up of Kenny Watson with fire in the background behind him

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963

by Christopher Paul Curtis

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What is the falling action in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963?

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The falling action in the story is when Kenny finds a shoe that looks just like one that Joey was wearing. He fears the worst and rushes home in a state of hysteria. Thankfully, Joey survives the horrific blast; she wasn't in the church when the bomb went off. It is at this point in the story that the falling action takes place. Everyone's totally shaken and traumatized by the bombing and the sheer hatred that it represents. The Watsons realize that the racist South is no place for them or any other African-Americans, for that matter. So they decide to pack up and head back home to Flint.

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In literary terms, falling action refers to that part of the plot that takes place after the climax and before the denouement. In The Watsons go to Birmingham, the climax in the story is when the 16th Street Baptist Church is bombed by white supremacists. In the aftermath of...

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the bombing, the Watsons frantically search for Joey, who was attending Sunday School at the church. Kenny finds a shoe that looks just like one that Joey was wearing. He fears the worst and rushes home in a state of hysteria.

Thankfully, Joey survives the horrific blast; she wasn't in the church when the bomb went off. It is at this point in the story that the falling action takes place. Everyone's totally shaken and traumatized by the bombing and the sheer hatred that it represents. The Watsons realize that the racist South is no place for them or any other African-Americans, for that matter. So they decide to pack up and head back home to Flint.

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What is the climax of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963?

In The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, the reader becomes acquainted with the Watson family as they experience events in 1963, which later proved to be a significant year in the Civil Rights Movement. One of the most terrible real-life events that Christopher Paul Curtis includes is the bombing of a Birmingham church, which killed three girls. Kenny is fond of his little sister, Joey, but he also tries to distance himself from her because he is older and a boy. Although he did not intend to do so, Kenny gains the extraordinary opportunity to save his sister’s life through the power of imagination.

Throughout the novel, Kenny is confronted with a variety of new experiences that he often has trouble understanding. He tends to be naïve, and his older brother Byron teases and plays tricks on him. Kenny’s near-death experience in the whirlpool is a significant event. After Byron saves him from drowning, Kenny stays home to recover while Joey goes to church on Sunday. When they learn of the bombing and run to the church, Kenny follows later. He cannot totally understand the bombed-out interior and bloody people. He does realize that the shiny black shoe he picks up belongs a dead girl, whom he assumes is Joey.

She returns to the house soon after him, very much alive and with both her shoes. Joey tells him that she had gone outside the church and saw him outside waving to her. Kenny is confused as to how she saw him while he was really at home, but he understands that this image led her away from the church and out of harm’s way.

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What is the climax of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963?

The climax or the high point of the novel comes in chapter 15, when Kenny hears the explosion and runs to the church. In the rubble and dust of the ruined building, he sees a black shoe that looks like the pretty ones Joetta (Joey) wore to church that morning, and he takes it. Kenny thinks it is Joey's and fears she has died.

Everything in the novel to this point has been leading up to this dramatic and historical high point. We have been witnessing the rising action of Kenny and his family driving south and visiting relatives in Birmingham, Alabama, so that, from a plot perspective, they can be there when the bomb goes off in the church.

This is a coming-of-age story, and the explosion will represent a breaking point. Kenny will grieve and grow up as a result of the bombing and not be the same person he was a few days earlier. Kenny's coming rebirth into greater maturity is foreshadowed by his nearly drowning in the Wool Pooh—at that point, he experiences a symbolic death because he is not mature enough to be aware of the danger he is stepping into. After the bombing, there is no going back for him to the blissful innocence of childhood.

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What is the denouement of "The Watsons Go to Birmingham"?

Remember that the a "denouement" is the falling action of a narrative. Here, all the events previously have culminated in the bombing of the church. The protagonist, Kenny, is forced once again to re-examine painful feelings about the meaning of life. By, the troublemaker, also comes to terms with his actions as the novel reaches its conclusion.

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