Study Guide

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 The Mourning Dove

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The Mourning Dove

Remember this guy? You know, death by cookie? Yeah, now you remember.

The mourning dove shows up in just one short scene, but its symbolism and importance resonate through the whole book. For one thing, when Byron accidentally kills the bird, we finally see his sensitive side. This is the first time he drops the tough guy act and gets emotional about something. The bird reveals that Byron really does care about other things besides himself. Now we just have to figure out why he's working so hard to act like a jerk all the time.

Symbolic resonance number two: did we mention that the mourning dove is Michigan's state bird of peace? Now that can't be a coincidence. Byron kills the Michigan state bird of peace with a cookie, kind of like how he's killing the peace of his Michigan family with all his constant foolishness. We wish he'd feel bad about that once in a while.

This brings us to a question: do you think it's possible that the mourning dove foreshadows what happens at the church? Let's think about it.

• The mourning dove represents peace, and it gets killed. That same idea seems to echo in the way the bomb shatters the church, a place that should also represent peace to the characters.
• The bird is an innocent creature that is suddenly and unexpectedly killed by the actions of another, and the same could be said about the little girls who are suddenly killed by the actions of those men.
• Plus, the mourning dove gets its name from its song, which is so mournful it sounds like a lament—kind of like the way all those families are crying and mourning over the tragedy at the church.

Maybe the mourning dove has a lesson for Byron and for all of us about how fragile and precious life is and how unpredictable death can be. Maybe the mourning dove is supposed to remind us to cherish each other a little more and treat each other a little kinder because you never know when death might show up and change your world forever. Deep, Christopher Paul Curtis. Deep.

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