Study Guide

The First Part Last Men and Masculinity

By Angela Johnson

Men and Masculinity

He never seemed to ask anybody else if they were being men […] I didn't consider him much of one, a man, hangin' on the corner, drinking forties at ten in the morning. (3.1)

Here Bobby thinks of Just Frank, a neighborhood drunk who always asked Bobby if he was being a man. And Bobby reveals that his definition of "man" doesn't include alcoholism.

I went to his funeral at Zion AME, then walked home and held Feather for the rest of the night, wondering if I would be a man, a good man. (3.4)

Frank surprises everyone when he is killed trying to prevent a neighborhood girl's assault. His death forces Bobby to rethink what it means to be a man—Frank may have been a drunk, but he tried to protect an innocent life nonetheless. How might his actions have affected Bobby?

I don't have any plans except shooting hoops with my partners at the rec center, and hanging out till we get bored and take in a movie. (Is this what you meant, Mr. Wilkins? Is this what you wanted me to say instead of I'm going to be the best father to me and Nia's baby that there ever was?) (6.22)

When Bobby and Nia tell Nia's parents about the pregnancy, Bobby is respectful in what he says to them, but he thinks something totally different. Sure, Bobby and Nia are going to be teenage parents, but Bobby is a little offended that Mr. Wilkins doesn't seem to expect Bobby to take responsibility for his actions.

The doctor, I can't remember her name, says something in a calm voice to Nia and doesn't look at me for the rest of the time we're there. (8.24)

At the doctor's office, Bobby mentions that maybe Lamaze would be better for the baby. Nia gets her hackles up, and then calms down. Why might the doctor not look at Bobby? Does Bobby really matter or have a say in how the baby is born? Should he?

And because this is a fairy tale, the hero and his running buddies lay back and talk about battles that they've won and places that they've seen.

There have been a lot of dragons.

More damsels for some than others. (16.34-36)

Bobby describes a perfect day with his friends, using the metaphor of knights and damsels. The images are old-fashioned, and so is the definition in this chapter of what it means to be a man: Men fight; men get glory; men get women. The funny thing is that the archaic image is totally at odds with what Bobby thinks about being a man. It's a lot easier when life is black and white, but that's not how Bobby's life really is.

I want to cry. I want to cry a whole lot these days, and sometimes I do, and this makes me crazy. (18.33)

When Bobby finds out that Nia may be going to Georgia, he's really upset. But he tries not to cry. Is this because he doesn't want to upset Nia, or is it because it's not okay for men to cry? What makes you say this?

Maybe if you'd said out loud how much you felt in the beginning you wouldn't have to look at her parents' faces when they walk out the automatic double doors. (29.10)

Bobby regrets not revealing his love for Nia and his desire to have the baby at the beginning of the pregnancy. He was told that his choice doesn't matter, though. Was this good advice? Honest advice? Why or why not?

I can't ever be a knight or brave, so I ask nothing about brain death or eclampsia or why the girl who had a thousand pair of sunglasses and my baby inside her won't ever walk, talk, or smile again. (29.23)

This harkens back to Chapter 16, when Bobby talks about knights and damsels. He's so scared for Nia and for the baby, and he doesn't understand what's happening—so why does he feel like he has to be brave? What are the social expectations for men in trying situations, and why does Bobby find them hard to deal with?

When I walk out of the office I think I see "Just Frank" standing at the end of the hall. And then I know I'm being a man, not just some kid who's upset and wants it his way.

I'm being a man. (29.52-53)

Bobby has just decided not to go through with the adoption, even though the family is all set up. Why does Bobby think this decision makes him a man? And how might being Feather's father make Bobby a man?

Instead I say, "Paul says he loves Ohio and it's a good place to raise kids." (30.15)

He's a man of few words, our Bobby is. He's got tons of fears and dreams, but he doesn't tell his father any of them. Why?

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