Study Guide

Tyrone Bittings in Bronx Masquerade

By Nikki Grimes

Tyrone Bittings

Bronx Masquerade is a novel with nineteen (yes, you read that number right) different narrators. Yeah, that's a lot, but the one we hear from the most is Tyrone Bittings. Which leaves us with one question: why?

Well, Tyrone is the one student who probably loves Open Mike Fridays the most. He reads his work just about every week and is pretty confident while doing so. His dream of being a rapper/songwriter meshes pretty well with his pursuit of poetry greatness, and he really enjoys being in the spotlight. For these reasons, he's a natural central narrator.

Just because Tyrone readily takes to the limelight doesn't mean he's stagnant over the course of the book—he also grows and changes a whole lot thanks to the open mic experience. In the beginning, he isn't really into school much:

School ain't nothin' but a joke. My moms don't want to hear that, but if it weren't for Wesley and my other homeys, I wouldn't even be here, aiight? These white folk talking 'bout some future, telling me I need to be planning for some future—like I got one! […] Anyway, it's them white folk that get me with this future mess […] Life is cold. Future? What I got is right now, right here, spending time with my homeys. Wish there was some future to talk about. I could use me some future. (3.1, 2)

Tyrone thinks school is pretty much a waste. The only thing he has to look forward to is the here and now; big dreams for the future are something white people are afforded, not kids like him.

By the time we reach the end of the school year, though, Tyrone has changed his tune. He totally digs Mr. Ward's class and loves doing the weekly poetry assignments. He isn't just taking his schoolwork more seriously, though—he also starts going above and beyond, working to organize a poetry slam and calling the reporter who writes the story on their class to invite him to their school poetry assembly at the end of the year. When Tyrone gets up in front of the whole school to talk about all the things he's learned in Mr. Ward's class, it's crystal clear this is a student who cares:

"Okay. I just wanted to say I'm really glad I got to do this poetry thing because I feel like, even though the people in our class are all different colors and some of you speak a different language and everything, I feel like we connected. I feel like I know you now. You know what I'm saying? I feel like we're not as different as I thought." (77.17)

This year matters deeply to Tyrone. While he starts out believing that dreaming about the future is for white kids instead of guys like him from the Bronx, he comes to find that he really does have hopes for himself. Importantly, he also learns that he might even have a shot at making his dreams come true. Yay.

In a way, Tyrone is kind of like a stand-in for the other kids in class. We get to see his reactions to each poem and trace his progression throughout the school year. We see him change his attitude, become more engaged, and learn all kinds of valuable lessons about friendship, acceptance, and making judgments. The other kids in class surprise Tyrone in every single chapter, helping readers appreciate just how big of an impact these poetry readings make in Mr. Ward's students' lives.

Nikki Grimes actually said that Tyrone functions as kind of a "Greek chorus" for the whole story (source). Like in a classic Greek play, Tyrone comments on all the characters and actions in the story, giving us key info for each poem's context. He's also our one constant as we change from voice to voice—every student has their own story to tell, but Tyrone has the inside scoop on all of them.

We're thinking Tyrone would approve of getting the most screen time.