Study Guide

Fallen Angels Poverty

By Walter Dean Myers

Poverty

Chapter 1

What I was thinking about was that I had to get up every morning and dry the clothes I had washed the night before by putting them on the oven door, to have something to wear to high school. How was I going to get the clothes for college? How was I going to get clothes for Kenny so he could stay in school? Mama had said that she'd see to it that Kenny stayed in school if I sent the money for clothes for him. (1.14)

Perry had the grades for college, but what drove him to the army instead? Good 'ol poverty. At home, not only does he not have the money to support himself, but he has to support his family, too. He needs a job that'll let him rake in the dough. And when you're fresh out of high school with no experience, your job pickings are going to be limited.

Chapter 2
Peewee (Harold Gates)

"When everybody got a bike I didn't get one 'cause there was no way we could get the money for a bike. But anything anybody got in the army, I got. You got a gun, I got a gun. You got boots, I got boots. You eat this lousy-ass chip beef on toast, guess what I eat?"
"Lousy-ass chip beef on toast," I said. (2.24-25)

Peewee likes at least one part of being in the army: it puts everyone on an even playing field, at least more or less. Which kind of gives you an idea of what Peewee's life was like before the army. His standards (chip beef?) are not very high.

Chapter 9
Lobel

"You know what I hope?" Lobel asked. "I hope I get killed over here so he has to fit that s*** between his vodka martinis." (9.84)

Lobel's different from the other guys in his platoon because he doesn't come from a working-class background. For his dad, vodka martinis—which are a step up from a can of Budweiser, as far as your adult beverages are concerned—are the norm. Kind of evokes the high life. But here's a secret: that doesn't necessarily mean a happy life. Deep, huh?

I answered him right away. I told him that he would do just fine in basketball. I put twenty dollars in the letter for him.
It was good having Kenny need me. I almost cried as I thought about him. It had been tough on me not being able to go to college, but things had been tough on him, too. In a neighborhood where you had to be tough just to get to the store with money for a loaf of bread, Kenny wasn't tough at all. (9.86-87)

Look at Perry, being a good older brother. He's the kind of guy who wants to help his kid brother, even though he went through the same problems as a kid, and never had anyone to help him. That's the sort of "show, not tell" moment to prove that Perry may have his flaws, but he's pretty swell overall.

Chapter 12
Richard Perry

"This reminds me of a Harlem night," I said. "Sometimes the little apartment we lived in would be so hot you couldn't sleep for days." (12.35)

Perry probably has more he can relate to in Vietnam than someone like Lobel does, just because Perry grew up poor and had less modern luxuries than the richer guys in the army. It's one of those silver lining kind of things.

Chapter 14

I was glad to see that An Linh was all right. It was what it was getting to be: hoping that what you liked, what you had seen before, remained whole.
I didn't have anything to give An Linh, so I gave her a dollar. I knew there wasn't much she could do with it in the boonies, but I gave it to her anyway. As I left she followed me with her eyes, and I wonder what she saw. (14.127-128)

Perry's gift of a dollar to An Linh a dollar is more symbolic than practical, but it still has value to them both. Perry saves his money carefully to send what he can to his family, so a dollar isn't nothing to him. An Linh can't exactly use an American dollar in Vietnam, but she gets that the gift is more making a connection than making a profit. Moments of humanity in wartime are one of those precious things money can't buy.

Monaco

"Like a trip to friggin' hell," Monaco said.
"No, man, this is like the projects in Chicago," Peewee said. "The police can't protect your ass from the muggers and s***, and the muggers don't protect your ass from the police." (14.120-121)

Because Peewee has lived in poverty, he gets what the Vietnamese villagers are going through more than the other soldiers do. They're basically stuck in the crossfire of gang warfare. Kind of a reminder that huge, violent problems aren't limited to an official war zone—they're happening back at home, too. It's a bit of a downer.

Chapter 15

I won thirty dollars in the football pool. I had Green Bay and a point total of forty-eight, which was closer than anybody else. I sent the money to Mama. (15.84)

Perry can't even keep his betting winnings. Family first—that's his motto. At least he gets the pride of predicting the football win.

Chapter 17

I got a letter from Kenny, too. He said he had a part-time job working at Kelly's Drugs on the corner of Lenox and 118th Street. For some reason I felt so proud of him, that he would do that. I just hoped Mama was letting him keep all the money he made. (17.144)

Here's yet another example of how Perry wants a better life for his brother than what he has. He sends all his money home, but he wants Kenny to be able to keep his earnings. Now that's generosity.

Chapter 18

"I got a coin back home," he said. "You go in my room and look in the back of the closet on the floor. You find a sneaker there and in the sneaker there's a sock with some stuff in it. Most of the stuff ain't worth nothing, but that coin is real old." (18.53)

One coin, however rare, is hardly big money, but this still shows how much Peewee cares about Perry. He doesn't have much, but he wants to give Perry his most valuable thing if he dies. Like the dollar with An Linh, money here is about symbolizing friendship even more than it's about being able to buy things.

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