“Chicago Slums: The Other America”
"Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate. (Anonymous)” In the 1980 Chicago slums this quote couldn’t be truer. The slums were/are a terrible place for not just children, but everyone to live. The Henry Horner homes in particular are full of death, drugs, and poverty. This may not seem like the greatest place for children to be raised, but for some, they know nothing different. The constant gang trouble, drug trafficking, and hiding from stray bullets are an everyday occurrence for people living in these government housing complexes. The devastation is a never-ending cycle. The parents get into drugs and violence, and the children have no choice but to imitate their parents and everyone around them as they grow up. The end of the cycle is unseen for most, but for some, such as Lajoe Rivers that cycle will end with her youngest five children. “But you know, there are no children here. They’ve seen too much to be children. (Lajoe)”
The plot begins in the summer of 1987, the boys, Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers are enjoying their time near the tracks searching for snakes. Here, the boys could be children. They could let their imaginations run wild and they could just take a break from the horrible life they have waiting at home. Lafeyette and Pharoah are a part of large family living in the Chicago projects. Their mother, Lajoe, has eight children; the three older ones have slowly fallen off the deep end, but the five younger have a chance to do good. Lajoe takes great pride in her children and does everything she can to raise them to be upstanding citizens and stay out of trouble. She is greatly disappointed in the way her first three turned out, so she makes it a point to keep the younger kids under strict supervision. Because of the absence of their drug addicted father, Lafeyette, a child himself, takes the role of man of the house. He looks out for his siblings and takes care of his mother. Even when Lajoe loses her welfare check, her Lafeyette stands strong and reassures her it will all be ok. During the course of their lives, the children face everything from drugs, violence, rape, imprisonment, and worse of all, death. They learn quickly that they must grow up fast to overcome the despair that shadows their everyday lives. Lajoe tries hard to preserve the youth of Pharoah and the triplets. Because of this, most of the responsibility gets put on Lafeyette and his childhood is quickly taken from him. Throughout the boy’s lives, there are significant events that shape the way they grow up and how they learn to cope with their surroundings. For Lafeyette, losing several close friends to violent deaths results in him hating gangs, and also resenting police officers. Pharoah eventually finds himself having bad feelings towards the white people that just offer ridicule and never help, to the worthless black boys. Racism plays a huge role in the boy’s lives, and the older they get the more they can see and understand it. But, in the end, Lajoe is successful in what she dreamed and hoped for. Lafeyette, Pharoah, and the triplets all turn out to be good kids and for the most part, stay out of trouble. The housing complex is fixed up with the arrival of Vincent Lane, and news of Terence getting his GED warms his mother’s heart.
Among the main characters is a young boy, Pharoah Rivers. Pharoah, around nine years old in the beginning of the book is the fifth child born of Lajoe Rivers. Life in the projects takes a great toll on poor young Pharoah. He is old enough to know what is going on, but still young enough that he hides behind his youth to shield himself from the terrifying experiences of most children living in the Henry Horner homes. Throughout the story, Pharoah’s character changes on an up and down roller coaster. In the beginning he is a very shy, innocent, youthful young boy who tends to keep to himself. He spends most of his days daydreaming to...
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