Beer has a first and straightforward function within the world of the Robert Taylor Homes – people drink it in order to drink it, and possibly to get drunk. Residents drink beer in stairwells and at outdoor gatherings on the grass and around the basketball court. The beer is relatively cheaply available at grocery stores, and many, especially foot soldiers in the gangs, drink it more or less steadily throughout the day. But for Sudhir, beer is also a form of social currency, a means of demonstrating that he is a meaningful part of the group he’s studying – the residents of the Homes, or members of the BK gang. When Sudhir is first “stuck” in the stairwell with BK foot soldiers, right as he is meeting JT and beginning his research, he drinks beer with some gang members and, on returning, brings beer for JT and others. Later, Sudhir finds that beer is an important method for announcing that he is willing to participate in the world he observes – that he is not “above” or “outside” it. It is fitting, too, that Sudhir is drinking beer with JT, relaxing, and reminiscing during their final visit in the Robert Taylor Homes, at the end of the book and before the homes are slated for demolition.
The Gang Leader for a Day quotes below all refer to the symbol of Beer. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Gang Leader for a Day published in 2008.).
The timeline below shows where the symbol Beer appears in Gang Leader for a Day. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 - How Does It Feel to Be Black and Poor?
Chapter 2 – First Days on Federal Street
...Robert Taylor. JT invites Sudhir to a party, with people standing outside eating and drinking beer in the sunshine, assembled around cars and basketball courts, and with music and general merriment.... (full context)
Chapter 7 – Black and Blue
...day, sitting outside and enjoying the fine weather, Sudhir is talking to JT’s uncle, drinking beer. A car drives quickly near Robert Taylor, and shots are fired from out its window... (full context)