There Are No Children Here

by

Alex Kotlowitz

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There Are No Children Here: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, on March 3, Pharoah prepares himself for the spelling bee, ironing his clothes and putting on some of Weasel’s cologne. At school, he meets his friend Clarise, who is impressed by her partner’s appearance, and the two of them promise the other to keep on going even if one of them is eliminated, so as to represent their class. During the spelling bee, Pharoah seems calm and composed, and succeeds in spelling all the words until only Clarise and he are left.
Pharoah’s preparation for the spelling bee has been both psychological and intellectual, as he knows that his relaxed attitude on the day of the contest will matter just as much as his spelling abilities. To this end, his careful choice of clothing reflects his desire to be seen as a dignified, competent contestant, even if he does not succeed in winning the contest.
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Even though both Pharoah and Clarise would have gladly accepted to stop there and share first place, they have to continue. In the end, when they are asked to spell one last word before a tie can be declared, Pharoah misspells the word “darken” and Clarise wins the contest. Nonetheless, both of them congratulate each other and Pharoah is overjoyed and proud of himself, trusting that he did a good job.
Even though Pharoah does not win the contest, he knows that it is not due to lack of preparation or excessive excitement, and can therefore enjoy his performance fully. Clarise and Pharoah’s happiness at celebrating this victory together demonstrates that their partnership has proven stronger than their potential rivalry.
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After walking joyfully back home, Pharoah enters the apartment and notices a dark, silent atmosphere. Even though he is happy and excited, he is also worried about the strange silence around him and gives his mother his ribbon, telling her he made second place. He describes the contest but realizes that no one seems to care about it and that everyone seems absent. Dutt, a neighbor and the mother of Craig’s girlfriend, has been crying, and Lafeyette is staring out the window, failing to congratulate Pharoah on his success.
The contrast between Pharaoh’s excitement and the family’s gloom is heartbreaking and sobering, given that the young boy’s achievement is something he has been planning and working on so hard over the past year. This scene, then, reveals the terrible impact that violence and death have on people’s lives, as it turns even the most loving family members’ focus away from hope and exciting events, overwhelming them instead with the injustice of life.
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Although LaJoe tries to console Dutt, Lafeyette says that Craig’s death is unfair and that he shouldn’t have died, because he was living such a good life. Despite their efforts to accept Craig’s death, everyone agrees with Lafeyette and stays silent. In the meantime, Pharoah has decided to escape the sadness in the apartment, realizing that this is not is moment to celebrate, and goes to look for Porkchop.
Even in a situation he does not fully understand, Pharoah’s perceptiveness and willingness to set his own needs aside is striking. Perhaps accustomed to violent catastrophes, Pharoah neither sulks nor draws the attention to his success more than he already has, but instead simply goes to look for his friend, accepting to postpone his moment of success in order to let his family grieve.
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Unlike Bird Leg’s funeral, Craig Davis’s is organized at a reputed place, the city’s most famous black-owned funeral home and is attended by the many people who admired the young man. Even though both Lafeyette and LaJoe hate funerals, they attend the ceremony, but Pharoah decides to stay home because he does not like being around sad people. Unlike Bird Leg’s funeral, in which people cried and yelled out for the dead boy, silence marks the ceremony for Craig Davis’s death.
The difference between Bird Leg and Craig Davis’s funeral highlights the fact that although both involved the seemingly unjust death of a young person, Bird Leg’s was a gang-related death, whereas Craig has died for no apparent reason. The injustice of this seemingly arbitrary death is so striking that people remain stunned, focused more strongly on the sorrowful event than on the possibility of revenge.
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This silence mirrors the authorities’ silence about what happened, as they have failed to contact Christine, Craig’s mother, to give her explanations about the circumstances of her son’s death. Instead, they’ve continued to tell reporters that Craig was a gang member, even though everyone who knew Craig considers the police’s explanations implausible and intentionally deceptive. Despite its outrage, the community, too, finds itself unable to act. Unlike the time of the Soto brothers’ death, when the community was able to rise up against the police and demand accountability, people turn inward, unable or unwilling to fight for the community’s well-being.
Once again, the police proves unwilling or unable to own up to its deeply unjust actions. Instead of trying to rebuild trust with the community, the police makes people feel angry and even more distrustful of authority than they already were. At this moment in time, though, the weight of this anger is even heavier to bear in the absence of collective organization, because isolation forces people to give up on the fight for truth and justice, and accept that injustice can remain unpunished.
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During the service, Lafeyette steps out. He cannot keep the image of Craig smiling and waving at him from his turntables out of his mind, and becomes silent, unable to cry. Craig’s death makes Lafeyette feel cynical and apathetic toward death, believing that he could die and be killed even if he has not done anything wrong. Believing that memories will only bring him despair, he begins to shut down memories of all kind, even having trouble recounting his activities at school. Over time, he falls into depression and begins to look older.
The effect of this loss impacts Lafeyette’s mind and body. While he is conscious of his sadness, his body shows that unconscious processes are also at play, eliminating memories in an effort to ease the trauma. In losing his friend, Lafeyette has lost all hope, not only because Craig was such a supportive friend and positive role model, but because Lafeyette can identify with Craig’s fate and can imagine himself dying in a similarly senseless way.
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Barely two days after Craig’s funeral, another friend of Lafeyette’s, Damien Russell (nicknamed Scooter), dies after a police car chased the one he was in, because the police was suspicious of the driver’s attitude. Going way too fast, the car spins out of control and hits a light pole, killing three of the adolescents in the car. Lafeyette’s reaction to this death is subdued. He concludes that the “death train” has taken Scooter, and that he does not want to talk about him anymore.
In the same way that his mind is shutting out harmful memories, Lafeyette begins to shut out all episodes of injustice. Instead of trying to make sense of such events, he simply accepts that death is arbitrary and uncontrollable, and that dwelling on the issue will only bring more harm. Lafeyette, in this way, gives in to the community’s general appearance of passivity toward violence.
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