The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
First Person (Central Narrator)
Kenny's great and all, but why isn't Byron our narrator? Let's take a look.
Kenny loves to have his nose in whatever is going on with Byron, so we don't miss any juicy details from the big bro. But still, we never get inside Byron's head. And just like the rest of the Watsons, we are often dying to know what Byron is thinking when he, say, decides to set parachutes on fire in the bathroom or when he's getting his head shaved. Why does killing that bird upset him so much? Why does he start acting differently the moment they get to Birmingham? Without access to Byron's thoughts, our understanding of him only goes as far as what Kenny can tell us. And sure enough, Kenny's just as confused as we are:
I really wished I was as smart as some people thought I was, 'cause some of the time it was real hard to understand what was going on with Byron. (6.83)
Yeah, no kidding.
But enough with the complaining—let's talk about what we like about Kenny the Narrator. For starters, this kid is perceptive. He notices lots of details that most ten-year-olds wouldn't bother to report, and in a lot of cases, he has a pretty good idea what other people are thinking and feeling. Who cares? Well, without getting to hear the other characters' thoughts for ourselves, the best we can do is try to understand them based on their actions—actions that Kenny is sure to report.
Let's look at an example: Kenny knows that Momma repeats herself when she's irritated and that Dad repeats whatever the kids say when he's mad. He can tell that Joey doesn't like the angel from Mrs. Davidson, he senses when Byron is about to pull a trick, and he knows Rufus is hurt the minute he laughs at him, even though his face never changes. Thanks to Kenny, we know all this, too. Thanks, K-dawg.