The beginning of Bud, Not Buddy was very upsetting for me, as it is a childhood story, I unfortunately understand and can relate to. Here in my grown up world, I remember childhood as days long ago that ended when I was about 13, only this book reminded me of the extreme brevity of childhood for some. In the mind of 9 year old Bud, you stop being a child at age 6, suggesting that not only are there identity issues but that adults ignore these because of the standard of normalcy. Buddy alludes to these identity issues when he discusses losing teeth at 6, being afraid that he would wake up with something else missing, and having adults tell him it’s perfectly normal when he inquires about the changes. This then calls into question adults’ treatment of children, and the affects of dismissing a loss as normal. Additionally, it sheds on light on how removed the childhood experience really is from what society constructs childhood to be. Here we are, in our adult world telling scared little children that such an extreme change is normal, when from Bud’s perspective it is the scariest time of a child’s life.
Bud, Not Buddy also establishes very early on, the gender roles and interracial divide of the time. When they are told which homes they are going to Bud told Jerry that he should not be afraid as living with three sisters meant they would treat him special. Also, he told him the worst they would make him do was play house, obviously playing house is ascribed to females. However, having an older brother meant that Bud would get beat up, this type of relationship is clearly ascribed to males; older brothers pick on younger ones. Still early on Mr. Amos expresses his disdain for African Americans who don’t want to advance. He refers to Bud and others like him as “ilk,”which is the equivalent of saying “you people” in a racist statement. This is the first place the author highlights the racial divide of the time, how can a black woman call an innocent black child vermin? The Amos’ are an example of a black family who managed to avoid being oppressed only to become to oppressors.
Despite the fact that our narrator is a child, I am very surprised at his speech. Nowhere does the author say that Bud received formal education after age 6, so his correct use of words like commence (p.g 5) and suspicion (p.g. 7) surprises me. Yet, I am reminded that he is a child when he says things like remomorized (p.g. 11) and scooching (p.g. 10). Bud he has all these rules that he has memorized much like we see in Alice’s Adevntures in Wonderland and in the Phantom Tollbooth. Lesson learning and the correct application thereof are obvious parts of child development. However, Bud is different from most child characters we have encountered, as his experiences are not imaginary and he understands a lot about adults. He refers to Mrs. Amos as a lair’s paradise because she would believe anything Todd said. He also knows that being too brave is stupid, he knows when to give up the fight and when to keep going. Yet most interesting of all is that he knows that adults are liars, and deceitful people (“when an adult tells you not to worry“….; “when an adult says listen carefully…”). Additionally, his rules of self conduct on how much information to give adults, what to do when you wake up with a crowd around you, are all things you would not expect a 9 year old to know, yet he does.
What struck me most was his defense of his name, he reminded me of Kunta Kinte in Alex Haley’s Roots. Bud’s defense of his name for me meant that he understood the importance of names to identity. When asked who we are, the instinctive response is to give our name, it is the definition of who we are. From the beginning of the book, people kept calling Bud, Buddy as though giving him some other identity. We see the importance of getting someone’s name right in Coraline also when everyone keeps calling her Caroline. His defense line obviously comes from his mother telling him not to let anyone call him buddy, which is a dog’s name.
But obviously is not a child in behavior or thought, he is an adult, he knows how to govern himself and he learns as he lives, it doesn’t seem that he has had much of a childhood, as his only remnants of such are his mother’s picture, the flyer with Flint on it, that suitcase and his memories of Brer Rabbit.