Study Guide

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Friendship

By Christopher Paul Curtis

Friendship

This guy was real desperate for a friend because even though I wouldn't say much back to him he kept jabbering away at me all through class. (3.14)

Poor guy. Why do you think Rufus is desperate for a friend here? Why does Kenny ignore him?

Rufus started acting like I was his friend. In the morning on the bus he'd always come sit next to me, and Mrs. Cordell put his regular seat next to mine in school. Every day at lunchtime he followed me out to the playground and ate half of my second sandwich, then sneaked the other half to Cody. He even found out where we lived and started coming over every night around five-thirty. (3.52)

Kenny doesn't seem to be working very hard at making friends with Rufus, but Rufus is determined to become friends with Kenny anyway. Tough kid! Why do you think Rufus is so persistent? And why does Kenny share his lunch with Rufus if he doesn't really want to be his friend?

From the way [LJ's] pockets were sticking out it looked like he had one Tyrannosaurus Rex and one Triceratops. I couldn't tell how many he had in his socks. I figured that wasn't too bad a price for as much fun as we'd had. (3.83)

Hmmm, you probably shouldn't have to "pay" your friends to play with you. We're pretty sure that LJ was never a true friend to Kenny.

I never played with LJ again after that. So playing with Rufus got to be O.K. It was a lot better not to have to worry about getting stuff stolen when you were with your friends, and it was a lot better not spending half the time arguing about who's going to be the Nazi dinosaurs. (3.94)

Kenny is describing what sounds like a pretty good friendship here, but he doesn't seem to really appreciate it. It sounds as if he didn't really want to play with Rufus, but now that they are playing, it's "okay." This kid doesn't know how good he has it.

Maybe it was because everybody else was laughing, [...] maybe it was because I was glad that Larry hadn't jumped on me, but whatever the reasons was I cracked up too. Rufus shot a look at me. His face never changed but I knew right away I'd done something wrong. (3.100)

Can you sympathize with Kenny here at all? Have you ever laughed at someone when you shouldn't have (even behind their back), or do you always stand up for your friends? Come on, be honest—we won't tell.

"I thought you was my friend. I didn't think you was like all them other people," he said. "I thought you was different." (3.110)

Did you think Kenny was different, too? What about the way he ignored Rufus on his first day of school? When does Kenny really start being "different?" When does he become a true friend to Rufus?

[...] all of a sudden I started remembering that before Rufus came to Flint my only friend was the world's biggest dinosaur thief, LJ Jones, all of a sudden I remembered that Rufus and Cody were the only two kids in the whole school (other than Byron and Joey) that I didn't automatically look at sideways. (3.112)

Well, fancy that: while Kenny wasn't paying attention, Rufus got to be very important to him. It seems like Kenny has been taking Rufus for granted all this time. Do you think Rufus knows that's how Kenny feels? Do you think Rufus realizes that Kenny hasn't been taking this friendship seriously until now?

I figured that if I told Momma I'd lost my first pair she'd give me the second one and me and Rufus each would have a full pair of gloves. (4.74)

Now that's friendship. What other evidence can you find to prove that Kenny is a good friend to Rufus after all?

I couldn't help myself, I sat on the curb and sniffled a couple of times, and finally cried. Rufus knew this was some real embarrassing stuff so he sat down beside me, looked the other way and acted like he didn't see me crying. (4.89)

Sometimes friends need to be comforted, and sometimes they need to be left alone. Rufus shows that he's a good friend to Kenny here because he knows that Kenny would want to be left alone right now.

"Who did this to you, By?" She didn't have to ask. There was only one other fourteen-year-old in the neighborhood who had a conk. I answered for him. "It was Buphead." (7.55)

Blame it on Buphead! Do you agree with the rest of the Watsons that Buphead is a bad influence on Byron, or do you think he's bad all by himself? How much do you think friends affect how you behave? Do you think Rufus affects how Kenny behaves at all?