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Chris Benson Benson1

Mrs. Nicholaides



Jonathan Kozol s Wueltunshuung

In the book Amazing Grace, Jonathan Kozol uses his unique ability

to express his experiences, to the reader. He arranges the focus of the

novel to modify the story. He takes the reader inside the Bronx and

shows social injustice. Kozol is able to express the story in such a

manner as to enable the reader to imaginatively participate, truly

broadening and deepening his sense of the experience. The tools Kozol

uses to invoke great emotion from the reader is what makes this book a

work of art. He cleverly centers his story around characters for whom

most readers would feel the highest emotional involvement for. Kozol s

choice of setting is ideal for the story because it is in a city to which he

gives no accolades.

The Walden book review praises Kozol on his style and

storytelling. It compliments his realistic views and gives credit to his

gloomy underlying tone to the story. The critic wrote:

The thesis may very well hit close to the mark. But Kozol, to

his credit, doesn t claim too much or pretend to have all the

answers. He presents his evidence and yes, his thoughts

without claiming any lock on the truth here. His evidence

stronly supports his dim perspective. The South Bronx for

example, has an epidemic of severe asthma. He cites

statistics showing hospital admissions for asthma at six or

more per thousand people in the South Bronx

neighborhoods, and 1.8 per thousand statewide in New York.

Although residents say they know the asthma epidemic s

likely cause is the recently built incinerator nearby, Kozol

explains that the assertion is both plausible and difficult to

pin down (Walden Web Book reviews).

Kozol s greatest tool is his focus on children. He chronicles the

inner city youths and their struggles with society. Most of them are

sickly and underfed, as a result of parental and governmental neglect.

The use of children is powerful because the child is an innocent and

pure person. The corruption and evils that overtake these children

leave us with heavy hearts. The fact that the youngsters did not

deserve the horrible things that were thrust upon them and their

helplessness gives the reader a taste for the urban tragedies. He uses

the children brilliantly because their innocence allows them to remain

pure and hopeful even though they are in a slum area with little hope

for a bright future. The child is ideal for a character because everyone

can relate to being a child. Not everyone has been a doctor, clerk or

accountant, but everyone has been an innocent child once in their lives.

Also people will feel sympathy toward the youths because of they are

innocence. No one would feel as much sympathy for a thief or addict,

because they are bringing evil upon themselves, whereas a child is

thrust into the evils of society.

The Elliot Bay book company wrote a review dealing with Kozol

and his choice of setting. Claiming that it was a brilliant choice for

this kind of story, the critic says:

Jonathan Kozol speaks through hearts and minds of the

children who live daily in war zone of drugs, prostitution,

gunfire, and illness. Children tell of their dreams and

worries; those who want to get a good education, eat

snowcones, or enjoy a small packet of cookies, deal with

AIDS, rape, and hunger on a daily basis. This emphasizes

the point that the children are able to see past all of the

crime and poverty to their hopes and dreams. The critic

concludes by writing, This is not an easy book to read, yet

these children s stories are full of tenderness, and love, and

grace. This is a neighborhood where people try to get by

and that our country tires to forget(T.A.T. 1).

That review is a summary of his genius. Kozol is able to write

using the perspective of the poor, without trying to preach a reform. He

leaves an ominous message and realistically says that there is little

hope for the victims of society.

Kozol is so intent on helping the children and bringing focus to

their needs that he talked to the Children s Express News Team. In

this discussion he talked about the racism and neglect of the city kids.

The children that he follows are mostly black or hispanic and are the

subject of racial neglect, according to Kozol. Kozol said in the

discussion with the Children s Express New York Bureau, Most black

kids in America grow up and don t know any white people. (Children s

News Express Bureau) Kozol stated in that same discussion that New

York City, which is one of the most racist cities in world, has dumped

all its toxic industries in the neighborhoods where poor black and

Latino children live. The rich and powerful white folks in New York City

need a place to put a big sewage plant. (Children s News Express


As he is discussing the underprivileged youths, Kozol mentions

that the children of the South Bronx are very religious. He feels that,

the young and poor often have more faith than those who have material

power. He is quoted in the article saying The children raise

questions of good and evil more often than most children I ve met in the

United States. I think that when people know hunger and

homelessness and sadness and depression they re more open to

religious thoughts. Kozol has been quoted saying that he has become

more religious since his interviews in the city. He says I long to

believe there is a heaven because it seems unbearable that the children

I met won t have something wonderful for them after they

die. (Manning 1) Barbara Ehrnreich also comments on the spirituality

of the book. She writes

Kozol reminds us that, with each casualty, part of the beauty

of the world is extinguished, because these are the children

of intelligence and humor, of poetic insight and luminous

faith. Amazing Grace is written in a gentle and measured

tone, but you will wonder at the end, with Kozol, why the

God of love does not return to earth with his avenging sword

in hand(EhrneicH2)

Kozol lists some of the youths and their tragic endings which are

unthinkable to most readers. He gives them names and families so that

they stick in the reader s mind and don t become a faceless mass to be

forgotten. One example of this is Ebony Williams, a little girl who is

incinerated in a pampers box near the Bruckner Expressway. Most

readers could not even begin to imagine how or why that occurred. The

surprise does not sit with the reader long as they continue and learn of

the Dukes brothers. Judson and Steven Dukes both die in one year.

One brother falls off a roof and the other dies of illness because of the

unsanitary living conditions of the city. He doesn t stop after describing

them, he artfully describes their mother and how hard it was for her.

That helps to insert a picture into the reader s mind. These

monstrosities are in addition to the countless youths who are shot to

death or killed in various fires, which are all too familiar to the

occupants of the South Bronx.

The city and its officials are set in the role of the villain, just as

they are with many of the poor citizens who feel neglected. This is a

unique tool because often in literature and entertainment, the city is

seen as a helpful friend to the people. In one instance in the story,

there is a little boy who is playing in a hallway and leans against an

elevator shaft. The shaft doors open and the boy falls to his death. The

building had not been inspected recently and the building management

did little to repair the door. The city on the other hand blamed the

parents for letting their child play around in a hazardous area. To this

Kozol writes, Going outside for youngsters in the building, means

going in to the hallway, since the real outside, where they could get

some clean air, is just too dangerous. (Kozol 99) That statement

paints a terrifying picture of a place where a run down hall way with a

faulty elevator shaft is the safest place for kids to socialize. Another

example is that of Mrs. Washington, a woman who is dying of AIDS.

She is forced clean her own hospital room after she checks in. Even

the little things that most people take for granted are nonexistent for

her and her peers in the Bronx.

From there Kozol uses the view point of the poor to assault city

hall. He lists the programs that had been cut by Mayor Guliani,

including sanitation and inspection services as well as many

rehabilitation programs. Also tax cuts in Manhattan, that benefit only

the five percent of the population who also have incomes of over

$100,000, are of no help to the minorities dying of poverty in the

South Bronx. These cuts are funded by laying off many social service

agents who also happen to be mostly black and hispanic women. This

means that the ratio of two hundred cases to one worker will grow even

more uneven. Kozol continues to emphasize his point by quoting the

mayor in his talks with children, I think largely you have to help

yourself….Look at what is there and take advantage of it. (Kozol 101)

However, Kozol then reveals that Guliani soon cancels 11,000 jobs for

children of their ages, as well as afterschool programs in which

children would be safe while families work. This basically means that

city hall has decided that poor families will have to manage without

public help.

Kozol stays away from the beneficial actions of city hall because

he believes that the benefits are given mainly to the white middle and

upper class citizens. He writes irately on how the inspection program

for apartment buildings are cut. Two of the children who he interviews

are killed in different apartment fires. He describes the illegally barred

windows and fire escapes, the non-fire retardant building materials and

the lack of fire safety items such as an extinguishers or fire alarms.

Kozol also lashes out at the press and media for making the many

cases seem impersonal and the victims faceless. He writes, The

victims soon dissolve into a vague scenario of sadness that can seem

uncomfortably abstract (Kozol 132) He uses this to evoke frustration

from his readers because there is little to be done about the fires, and

it seems as though those with the power simply turn their heads. He

has collected several headlines to exemplify of his point. Fiery Tomb

For Two Bronx Kids, from the Daily News. No Escape, reads a

second headline. Trapped Tot Killed In Apartment Blaze, reads a

headline one day later. Apartment Fire Kills Bronx Boy is another.

Bronx Apartment Blaze Kills Mom and Son, reads one more vague

description. The final headline was for a fire in which the mother and

son had died together. The boy was believed to be somewhat retarded,

however he actually had only a learning disability which was

undetected early because there was not sufficient help for him from the


Kozol proposes several different systems to help. They include

AIDS awareness and treatment, correction facilities, and protection and

security measures. He also enumerates programs which are needed

such as thirteen shelters, twelve soup kitchens, eleven free

foodpantries and what he calls an empowerment zone, or enterprise

zone , which would be a business that generates jobs for a small

fraction of the people who reside in the slums. Kozol adds an

explanation to this,

All of these strategies and services are needed-all these and

hundreds more- if our society intends to keep on placing

those it sees as unclean in the unclean places. In reality, it

is a form of quarantine, says Ana Oliver, who directs an

agency that serves ex-prison inmates who have AIDS, not

just people who have AIDS but people who have everything

we fear, sickness, color, destitution-but it has been carried

out in ways that seem compatible with humane

principles(Kozol 137).

Kozol quotes a woman from the South Bronx who acknowledges

the evils. She says Evil exists? Yes I said that. People who let other

people be destroyed do evil. People who know but do not act do evil. I

don t know if I would call them evil but they re certainly not thinking

about heaven. (Kozol 96) He told critic Anita Manning that the people

there were nothing to fear and it was the society that was scary. He

proclaimed, I m far more terrified of the icy equanimity of corporate

attorneys in Manhattan than any drug dealers in the South Bronx. Those

corporate attorneys are killing far more people and doing it with the

illusion of innocence.

Kozol has a unique ability to express his views with facts and

statistics. He uses, however, only the facts that are disturbing enough

to complete his thoughts and send them from his vision to the reader s

vision. He attempts to go after the prison and correction programs of

the city. He comes out with an alarming figure that the city spends,

fifty-eight thousand dollars a year on each adult inmate and seventy

thousand on each juvenile. These are disproportionate figures to start

with but he drives home his point by adding that each is about ten

times as much as what it spends on educating a child in its public

schools. (Kozol 142)

The setting Kozol uses is a powerful tool in his vision of the world.

The rundown city of the South Bronx is a consummate choice. This is

an area that has a minute amount of income and little hope for

improvement. The South Bronx is one of the most racially as well as

economically segregated areas in the country. There are virtually no

prosperous citizens and very few are white. Kozol has picked an area

that receives ineffectual government help and a place whose existence

most ordinary people don t want to even acknowledge. The filth ridden

streets and condemnable buildings are home to the elderly,

hardworking, and children, in addition to drug dealers, prostitutes and

criminals. After hearing Kozol s description of the area as a rat s nest,

one cannot help but wonder how the children are able to remain

spiritually faithful and hopeful.

One major part of the setting is St. Ann s Episcopal Church. The

building occupies a spacious close along St. Ann s Avenue opposite 140th

Street in the Bronx. It is more than just a museum; it is a virtual center of

community activity. Mott Haven-St. Ann s neighborhood-is the heart of the

poorest congressional district in the United States of America. St. Ann s

addresses the urgent needs of its neighbors with food and assistance.

The church has developed a dramatically successful afterschool program

for elementary school children. This is an example of how a small

number of people are successfully trying to make a difference, yet on the

whole, Kozol believes that society leaves much to be desired in our

treatment of one another.

Kozol believes that society is largely responsible for each citizen.

Using the prisons again to transfer his thoughts to the reader, he reveals

that nearly three quarters of the inmates of state prisons in New York are

from the same seven neighborhoods of New York City. They are the South

Bronx, Harlem, Brownsville, Bedford-Stuvyesant, South Jamaica, East

New York, and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. All but one of the

neighborhoods are deeply segregated ghetto neighborhoods. Kozol

demonstrates how the racist city cares little for the minority groups and

that it is this neglect that turns these city blocks into breeding grounds for

criminal activity. His message that segregation and lack of money is a

cause of crime is clear because of his continuous focus on the negative

effects of poverty. White rich neighborhoods are virtually crime free in

comparison. A black man in New York is fourteen times as likely to be

incarcerated as a white man. A hispanic man is twelve times as likely to

be imprisoned and ninety seven percent of juveniles imprisoned in secure

detention are either hispanic or black.

Kozol offers a solution of sorts when he tells Anita Manning of USA

Today, and she quotes him,

The problem is not beyond our ability to solve, Kozol says. Rather,

we lack the spiritual will to act on what we know…. No matter

what some racists or hardhearted people think of women of color,

the children have done nothing wrong. They ve done nothing, and

they re too sweet to even hate us. We re allowing them to die.

Kozol is able to clearly transfer his vision to the reader in his

treatise, Amazing Grace, by using several tools that hit the reader hard.

But it is probably the way he blends them together that makes his work

stand out. One is his use of the children and their purity. No one can

stand to see an innocent child killed or oppressed, so this is a great

choice for characters. The setting is important because it is in one of the


neighborhoods in the country. Also, the South Bronx is racially

segregated, consisting of mostly blacks and Hispanics. Kozol is able to

use the two together to illustrate the point of view of the residents to the

reader. He offers a new look from a non- white or wealthy point of view.

Kozol gives depth and personality to those victims of society who are

portrayed as a faceless mass by the press and politicians. Many readers

might believe that the poor are lazy and there is nothing that can be done.

They might think it is best to turn their backs to it and let it go away on its

own. Kozol fights this notion and gives each victim a name and a story.

He writes how others viewed the innocent children and how they are

missed. There is one quote from the book in which Kozol cites a priest

from nearby St. Ann s Episcopal Church. He explains how and why the

children remain faithful. He says:

You have to remember, says the priest whom I share my

thoughts about these meetings, that for this little boy whom

you have met, his life is just as important, to him, as your life

is to you. No matter how insufficient or how shabby it may

seem to some, it is the only one he has -an obvious

statement that upsets me deeply nonetheless(Kozol 178).

That one quote sums up Kozol s work in a nutshell. It gives the

reader a deep thought of how each persons life has equal value. Of

course, monetarily all lives are different but simply because one does not

have money or power, it does not mean that their loss is any less

meaningful. The wealthy, white dominated media would have one believe

otherwise and Kozol knows that society is so brainwashed that when most

people hear of a tragedy in a slum they shrug it off and say It was only a

bum. In comparison the tragedy of a wealthy white person would be well

documented, such as the recent John Kennedy Jr. ordeal. It is not to say

that the victims did not deserve a ceremony, but to illustrate how some

lives are perceived to be more valuable than others. In fact, Kozol said in

an interview with Christopher Zimmerman,

Is money really the issue? It s extraordinary-as though it

were strange to suggest that poverty is primarily a matter of

economics. Would we doubt this if we were talking about

people starving in Haiti? or Calcutta? Of course not. We

would say they re poor not because they do not have the right

values, or something of that sort, but because of their

economic condition. Only in the United States, it seems, do

we question whether poverty is caused by lack of money.

There s almost a sense here that we can t conceive the

presence of economic injustice in our own society-only in

other societies. Why should our society be different from any

other society? Of course, spending money is not the only way

to solve the problem of unequal schools, for example but it

would be a beginning(Zimmerman1).

One of Kozol s apparatus to express his vision of the world, is that

through all the tragedies and all of the oppression, he still presents the

reader with characters whom are pure and able to survive. One example

of this is Mrs. Washington, an older woman who has lived in the South

Bronx her whole life and has seen all of the villainy that occurs. She

witnesses the deaths of the children and falls ill herself. She is forced

into an inept hospital, yet remains decent and humane. Mrs. Washington

is a character whose fate underlies the entire story. She is alive from

beginning to end, and sees all of the children who are destroyed by the

inactivity of others. She is a powerful tool in the story because by the

later years of her life, the area is still in the same, if not worse condition

as it was during her childhood. It makes the reader think What have we

really done to help these people and when will we make a significant

difference. Others who survive to go on to college or remain spiritual,

give hope to the reader that one day the city and society will change and

help these people live.

In contrast to all of the evil characters such as the drug dealers,

murderess or city hall, Kozol presents dozens of martyrs who fight the

evils of society. He gives them names and stories to eliminate the

faceless mass that is referred to as the poor. One, Alicia Aponte, a

nineteen year old girl, was killed in a crossfire at a playground. Another,

Lourdes Cintron, was a philanthropist who was killed shortly after taking

over the family business of philanthropy. One more martyr was

Moondog a man who was killed in the doorway of his house while

protecting a pregnant woman. All of these characters are inspirational

despite their tragic deaths. It gives hope that there are still some who are

not corrupted by the evil that is known as society. Toni Morrison also

praises Kozol on his tools. She writes, Amazing Grace is good in the

old-fashioned sense: beautiful and morally worthy….I thank you for the

language of this book, and its refusal to patronize, to exoticize these

children and its insistence upon taking what they say, feel and think

seriously. (Morrison)

Throughout the book Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Kozol, the author

uses many tools that help him convey his vision of the world to the reader.

His choice of children as the main characters is unique because it gives

the reader a character they can relate to as well as sympathize for

because of the innocence a child has. The use of setting could not be a

better tool because of how poor and dirty the city is. It is racially

segregated so the wealthy whites relate little to what happens to the

inhabitants of one of the poorest cities in the nation. The spiritual

overtone that Kozol uses in the book does not necessarily relate to the

religious but more to the morality of humanity. He accuses the world of a

crime that is not written or spoken of, it is the crime of indifference. His

ability to reveal these evils to the world is what makes his book a work of

art. In his epilogue, Kozol chooses a very thought provoking scene. It

deals with politicians and officials giving speeches to the poor in the city

park, preaching an upcoming change. He quotes the officials in saying

You can t control what you were born as, but if you control yourself, our

life will be more peaceful. (Kozol 234) A nice sounding quote but when

one breaks it down it is a different story. Yes they could not control what

they were born as, but that is why segregation is evil. The second part of

the phrase is almost absurd. If you can control yourself, our life will be

more peaceful. It sounds as if the official was blaming the children and

the poor for their violent behavior and asking them to stop so that the

wealthy do not have to deal with these problems. It seems as if the man

has no idea of what actually goes on in these neighborhoods. After

hearing enough of this gathering Kozol is walking away. In a symbolistic

way he exits behind the officials to another block where he sees addicts

and homeless abundant in the street, as if to say it is what is at the back

of the city that is the problem not the front.

Kozol s most touching tool is the reminder that the people who live

there actually do live with grace. He writes about how the oppressed

people still try to live like any other citizen. One character, Mrs. Flowers,

is an older woman who lives in a small rundown apartment. Mrs. Flowers

does not act like she is living in poverty, she cleans her apartment

everyday and keeps it in good condition, given the situation. Kozol had

gone to visit her one time and was surprised at how she acted like an

upper-class hostess, offering tea and food to him. This was surprising

because of her lifetime of poverty and the fact that she had lost her

daughter to AIDS recently. Another character is Mrs. Washington, who

had remained hopeful despite her constant oppression and struggles. She

lived her whole life in poverty and had seen most of the youth in the area

that were killed before they could experience life. These people

amazingly stayed hopeful and did so with grace.

Kozol s tools are what make this book a work of art. His keen sense

of humanity adds to the flavor of this urgent cry for help. The children are

symbols of beauty and innocence that remain pure despite their harsh

surroundings. The city and public that do little to help these people are

committing the worst crime one can commit according to Kozol,

indifference. This story is clearly told to the reader by Kozol, who is a

master at conveying his vision to the reader. One final question arises to

the reader by the end of story, and that is When will things change?

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