Study Guide

The First Part Last Duty

By Angela Johnson


I say—like I'm talking to myself—"No doubt in my mind that I'm keeping her." (3.34)

When Bobby's friends ask if he's going to keep Feather, Bobby doesn't even think it's an option. He's already made the choice, despite the responsibility fatherhood entails.

If she hollers, she is mine.
If she needs to be changed, she is always mine.
In the dictionary next to "sitter," there is not a picture of Grandma.
It's time to grow up.
Too late, you're out of time. Be a grown-up.

Oh, Mary—we kind of love you for making these rules for Bobby. Especially the last two. That's just the straight truth. Bobby has no practice time; he's in the game from the first second, and there are no substitutes.

She was still asleep as I crawled across the floor to her crib. Breathing that baby breath. Dreaming with baby eyes closed and sweet. And if she was older, just a little bit older, trusting that I'd be here for her. (7.11)

Once, Bobby leaves to go play hoops without Feather—he just forgets that he has more than himself to think of. Thank goodness he remembers just in time and comes back. That's the thing about babies that Bobby's realizing: They take all the innocence for themselves and give all the responsibilities to their caregivers.

Was fatherhood what I thought it would be? Was the responsibility of a baby getting to be too much? Was my mother helping? My father? The other baby's grandparents? (13.10)

When Bobby visits his neighbor Coco to see if she'll watch Feather for the day, she chats him up and asks him these questions. How would Bobby most likely respond? Is the responsibility too much, and is it worth it for him?

Pretty soon he's going to have to look inside the carrier and make up a face for the kid if it's gonna be following him all over the damned place anyway.

He's going to have to see it. (15.23-24)

The dream-like sequence of Bobby's mural on the wall is kind of a big deal. The carrier is following the ghost boy with or without the ghost boy's permission. In seeing the face of the baby, Bobby is acknowledging his responsibility to it. For more on this, check out the "Symbols" section.

And right now, besides a gurgling stomach and the look I know my mom is going to give me along with the hell, I feel worse because I'm taking my dad's smile and probably some more things he'll never talk about. (17.42)

Here's one marker that Bobby is growing up: He feels horrible not because he got caught, but because he's hurt the people he loves the most. Love can be kind of a burden sometimes, even though it encourages us to do the right thing.

She leans against me again. "I don't want to do it."

"Do what, Nia?"

"I don't want to be anybody's mother. I'm not done with being a kid myself. I'm way too young and so are you."

"No choice now." (20.32-35)

Even though Bobby says there's no choice, what does he really think? Do Nia and Bobby have a choice in assuming the responsibility of a child? What makes you say this?

I'm freakin' and in shock when everybody says I should be relieved and throwing a party. The hard part is that they're right and I should be happy. Right? (22.26)

This is a lot of convincing Bobby has to do for himself. He's agreed to give the baby up for adoption, but it's pretty clear that he's not happy about it. Think on this for a minute. What might prevent him from rejoicing at skirting the responsibility of a child?

I told her about you and how you were mine, not the smiling, happy people's baby; 'cause now that she was gone I wouldn't sign the papers. (28.14)

Bobby decides to take the full responsibility for his daughter. Is this the right thing to do? Why not give her up? Having read much of what his life is like in the now chapters, was Bobby prepared for the responsibilities of parenthood?

Maybe I'll tell him how all of a sudden the city just feels like it's too big and I've been having dreams that I leave Feather on the subway and can't get back inside the train fast enough to get her, and she disappears forever. (30.13)

The responsibility of having a daughter is bound up with the fear of not living up to her expectations of him. So to prevent himself from losing her literally and physically, Bobby decides that he needs to leave the city he loves with all his heart.

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