The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Analysis: What's Up With the Epigraph?
Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.
In memory of
Addie Mae Collins
Born 4/18/49, died 9/15/63
Born 11/17/51, died 9/15/63
Born 4/24/49, died 9/15/63
Born 4/30/49, died 9/15/63
the toll for one day in one city
Break out the tissues. Because Watsons borrows from the historical bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the author dedicates the book to the four girls who actually died in that attack.
The last line of the epigraph we're not completely sure about, but we have a few theories. First, If four little girls died in one day in one city, imagine how many lives were lost during the Civil Rights Movement. It's just a reminder that the conflict was bigger than any of us can even comprehend.
The last line also reminds us of this really cool passage from John Donne's "Meditation 17." In this passage, Donne basically says that because all Mankind is connected, any person's death hurts us all. In other words, a little piece of us dies whenever any person dies. When Donne says, "And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee," he is referring to the fact that during his time, when a person died, the church bells in the city would toll (ring) to announce the death. If a part of all of us dies when any person dies, those funeral bells are for us, too.
Neat, but what does this have to do with Watsons? Well, the Civil Rights Movement was based on the idea that if any of us are being oppressed, then all of us are being oppressed. That's why so many people of all races joined in the fight for equal rights for all. It seems then that the last line of the epigraph could refer to the tolling of the church bells for these four girls—which is also the tolling of the bell for all of us. Because, after all, all of us lost something on that tragic day.