Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis is set in the 1930s provides quite a few authentic depictions of the Great Depression era.
Here are some of those references to the people and events of the time:
- The author skillfully captures the language of the period. Such words may include: urchins (p.12), ingratitude (p.14), vermin (p.15), matrimonial (p. 56), devoured (p. 91), ventriloquists (p.101), sully (p.141), embouchure (p.194), and prodigy (p.196).
- Racism and white-dominated race relations were still very overt during the time. Examples are: Mrs. Amos’s statement: “I do not have time to put up with the foolishness of those members of our race who do not want to be uplifted” (p. 15); Eddie’s description of Mr. C, who “has always got a white fella in the band, for practical reasons” (p. 205).
- “Hooverville,” those areas of extreme poverty in the outskirts of almost every town and city and, were named so, according to Bud, because “[President] Hoover worked so hard at making sure every city has got one that it seems like it would be criminal to call them anything else.”
- Trade unions had enormous political and economic pressure, especially on political leaders. In the book, policemen inspect Lefty Lewis’s car because they are searching for labor organizers who are sneaking to Grand Rapids from Detroit.
- Telegraphy considered at the time as a fast and convenient way to convey messages without sending a letter. In the book, Lefty Lewis sends Herman Calloway a telegram telling him about Bud. By the late 1930s, however, telegraphy had lost its prevalence to the Telex machine.
- Entertainment played a major role during the Great Depression and had some unique characteristics, such as the emergence of jazz as a popular music. One of Bud’s flyers describes Calloway’s Band as “Masters of the New Jazz.” Herman E. Calloway, who Bud thinks is his, father plays in a Jazz Band.
- Orphanages are still common during the 1930s. Bud is living in an orphanage with many other children during the Depression.
- One of the caseworkers tells Bud given that the country is in the midst of a depression, they are lucky that two families have opened their doors for them. Todd Amos and his parents are stereotypical abusive family who would take on foster children for the money alone and never show them the love or give them the compassion they sorely need.
- The beds in the home are all “jim-jammed” together, meaning they’re crowded closely together.
- Unemployment is high, and the few jobs that are available don’t go to black people.
- Bud is interested in the famous gangsters he has heard about like John Dillinger, Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and Machine Gun Kelly. These were the best-known figures in the rise of organized crime during the 1920s.
- As he plans his rules for survival, Bud refers to tales and legends, which we heard from his mother. Here we can see how Curtis discusses the importance of legends and cultural knowledge to the survival of blacks in America.
- Budd’s adventures aboard the train refer to the phenomenon of numerous people hanging of the carts and catching illegal rides with trains during the era. The book also reminds us how dangerous this trespassing was.
- Bud encounters many men, who left their homes looking for income around the country.
- The character of Lefty Lewis teaches about the lives and work of Pullman porters, as well as about the special role of the railways in the development of black society in America.
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