Free Study Guide for There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

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The protagonist of a story is the main character who traditionally undergoes some sort of change. The protagonists of this book are Lafeyette and Pharoah. Together they face many obstacles that young black boys endure living in the inner city of Chicago. They have different ways of coping, but are better at facing the worst the city has to offer than are many of the other young black children who live around them.


The antagonist of a story is traditionally the force that provides an obstacle for the protagonist. The antagonist does not always have to be a single character or even a physical character at all. The antagonists in this book are many: the social system that creates impoverishment for minorities; the corruption and mismanagement of the Chicago Housing Authority; the gangs and their warfare; and the drugs they sell. The two boys face these problems each and every day, and any one of these antagonists could be the end of them. However, they also must face their own inner demons that may lead to either of them giving up and giving in to the corruption of the inner city.


The climax of a plot is the major turning point that allows the protagonist to resolve the conflict. The climax of this story occurs when Lafeyette is arrested for vandalizing a car, a crime he insists he did not commit; he is allowed to go home while awaiting sentencing.


Lafeyette is sentenced to a year’s probation and 100 hours of community service. The author gets both boys into a private school even though Lafeyette is unable to meet the challenge and returns to public school. Pharoah thrives in the school’s atmosphere, getting good grades and learning to overcome his tendency to daydream and forget his responsibilities. Rickey begins running drugs for one of the local gangs and is arrested for carrying a long butcher knife. He is placed back into juvenile detention and his mother believes if he doesn’t get out of the projects, he’ll either hurt someone else or be hurt himself. The CHA finally cleans out the horrendous mess in the Henry Horner basements and reclaims the buildings from the gangs. Dawn and Demetrius finally get an apartment with ABLA Homes, but end up with another child. Both are still looking for permanent work. Terrence expects to get out of prison sometime in 1991.


Lafeyette and Pharoah are two brothers growing up in the horrors of inner city Chicago in a low-income public housing project in 1987. The author asks their mother for permission to follow their lives for two years as a way of exposing life in “the other America.” He follows and catalogs their disappointments, joys, and tragedies over those two years, and in the process, shows the readers what so many people in our country would rather ignore.

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