The protagonist is Bud (not Buddy) Caldwell who has been an orphan since he was six. He seeks his father whom he believes is Herman E. Caldwell, a local band leader. In the process of trying to escape the foster home system and find his father, Bud learns all about life and people and eventually finds the place where he is meant to be.
There are several antagonists. The first is the foster home system which often places children like Bud in unsuitable homes or warehouses them in over-crowded orphanages. The second set of antagonists is the Amoses. This family tortures Bud for no reason other than they like to bully the foster children they bring into their home. The third antagonist Mr. Calloway who is convinced Bud is up to no good. He is a very unhappy man and has a hard time giving of himself. Bud must be patient and learn how to break down his defenses so they can be a family. The final antagonist is the unwritten laws of segregation that affect Mr. Calloway’s right to own land and Bud’s right to walk the streets at 2:00AM. It is a sad indictment of America in the early twentieth century.
The climax occurs when Bud is forced to blurt out his mother’s name and the band members and Mr. Calloway now know that she was Mr. Calloway’s daughter and Bud is his grandson.
Bud is fully accepted into the Calloway family and even into his grandfather’s band. Bud knows that he must be patient until his new-found grandfather can come to terms with all that has happened in his life.
A young boy named Bud (not Buddy!) Caldwell, who has been an orphan since he was six, runs away after being abused in a foster home. He sets out to find his father, a man named Herman E. Calloway, a bandleader in Michigan during the Depression. He has many adventures along the way and learns many lessons he can take with him in his life.
When God closes one door, he always opens another - The first and most important theme is when God closes one door, he always opens another. Bud learns this every time something eventful happens in his life and is followed by another path that leads him to what seems to be his destiny.
Fate or Destiny - Another theme involves the idea of fate or destiny. All the way through the story events occur that keep Bud walking a continual path to Herman Calloway. For example, instead of being to ride the rails with Bugs, he can’t run fast enough to jump on a boxcar. This turns out to be good, because Mr. Calloway is in Grand Rapids not Chicago.
People Helping People - A third theme involves the idea of people helping people. In spite of abusive people like the Amoses, there are many examples in the story of people banding together to help each other survive the Depression. It leaves the reader with a sense of hope for what Bud called “human beans.”
The Impact of Segregation - A final theme is more subtle, but nonetheless important: the impact of segregation. Blacks like Bud were treated as second-class citizens during this time period. They couldn’t own land or enter into contracts and the Depression was even harder on them. However, out of this comes the sense that many African-Americans became stronger for it.
The mood is at times troubling and even dark, but for the most part is continuously hopeful and uplifting. This is the result of a young boy like Bud who won’t allow society, adults, or even kids his own age to hold him back from achieving his goal.
Christopher Paul Curtis is the author of The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963, one of the most highly acclaimed first novels for young readers in recent years. It was singled out for many awards, among them a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor, and has been a best seller in hardcover and paperback.
Christopher Paul Curtis was born May 10, 1953. He grew up in Flint, Michigan. After high school, he began working on the automobile assembly line at the Fisher Body Plant No. 1 while attending the Flint branch of the University of Michigan. Today he is a full-time writer.
He and his wife, Kay, have two children, Steven and Cydney. The Curtis family lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.