Friday, November 10, 2006

Eat a little and think you know Baltimore

Laura Lippman describes her character Tess in the novel Butcher Hill as a very strong and confident young woman . In the novel, Tess moves to a new area in Baltimore and becomes a partner in a detective agency in Butcher Hill. She appears to be extremely intelligent and very aware of her surroundings; however Tess is unable to mentally and emotionally connect to the city of Baltimore.
The novel begins with Tess walking her dog through the city of Baltimore. She describes the beautiful arrangement of the city. She depicts the parks, the streets, and the weather. She states, “ But this was a perfect day. Spring had started out cool and wet in Baltimore this year, then settled into a pattern of eerily exquisite days(19). Tess appears to understand the city. She explains the checkered pattern of the city with it poor areas and its neighboring wealthy developments. Tess continues to walk and explore Baltimore. She stops and even purchases “Berger” cookies to eat on her walk. The Berger cookie is the cookie of Baltimore. Tess is actually consuming Baltimore. Lippman presents Tess’s understanding of Baltimore as a very shallow comprehension. Yes, Tess can observe the city and judge the city and it inhabitants. She can even claim to be physically a part of the city, but she does not connect to the city. Tess emerges herself in the city, and even engulfs the city, yet she is not fully a part of the city . Tess cannot completely understand or connect with Baltimore. Through the novel Tess believes she knows everything about the city and everyone. She has preconceived notions of her clients and the areas she investigates.
Tess’s view on Baltimore reminds me of the simple view Loyola students have on the city. Loyola students might think they understand the lay out of Baltimore, its museums, its inhabitants, and even its food. But this does not necessarily mean that students can cannot and truly comprehend the true nature of Baltimore.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What about Civil justice?

A section of Butchers Hill that I found very interesting was Mr. Beale’s description of his arrest and subsequent sentence and prison term. He continuously says that it was as if they were seeking him out. There are so many crimes in the city, and they got him not only for murder, but they even added to his charge because he wasn’t a licensed by the state for home improvements. In Mr. Beale’s description of his ordeal, it seems that the city wanted to make an example of him, to show that they don’t treat crime lightly, even for the aged.
This seems true in the city today as well. Teenagers are going to prison for minor crimes, such as marijuana possession or the possibility of being a drug-dealer. They are then carted into state prisons that have no sections for minor crimes, no levels of severity, but are completely mixed into the system, with rapists, murderers and thieves. This is a mistake and a very clear example of how our “rehabilitation systems” only create more criminals.
Although Lippman only touched on this topic briefly, I think that is a very important aspect of all cities. As our class discusses social justice and human rights, I think the idea of punishment and civil justice needs to come into the discussion. There is a serious problem in our civil court rooms and justice systems, Mr. Beale experience this. Now, we just need to find a way to solve them.

Physical and Social Barriers in Baltimore

As a Loyola College student, I still find myself at a loss when I try to determine my “place” in the city. How do I fit in? Who am I as a resident of Baltimore? In Laura Lippman's Butcher's Hill, Tess and Kitty made it a little clearer when they spoke of the different kinds of Baltimores. Tess asks her aunt, “do you ever feel like there are two Baltimores out there (Lippman 110)?” Kitty understood and responded, “More like three or four, maybe five. But it’s always been that way… Rich Baltimore, poor Baltimore. Black and white Baltimore. Old Baltimore,… and immigrant Baltimore (110).” I feel that since there are so many different subcategories of Baltimore, I have a harder time identifying and considering myself as someone who lives in the city.

The problem with this theory is that nearly all cities, New York City for example, have different subcategories. I feel if I lived in New York City, I would automatically feel like a New Yorker, and I feel that this is a result of their strong sense of overall community. Sure, New York City is extremely diverse with all kinds of different neighborhoods, but when it really comes down to it, each individual citizen feels like a New Yorker, and that is where I feel Baltimore fails. These subdivisions of differentiating characteristics in the larger category of Baltimore are set up too strictly with barriers, both physical and cultural. Lippman explains, “She [Jackie] had succeeded so quickly where Tess had failed. That’s why Tess had recruited her, yet it still needled, this sense of barriers, of places she could not go, people to whom she could never really speak (Lippman 86).” Not that there is a problem with a diverse city, it is just when high walls are built between different cultures. Tess is not being snobbish and petty; she is faced with the generations of physical and social barriers constructed by cultures in Baltimore.

Over time, these barriers have created physically apparent communities in Baltimore, and it is often difficult to travel from one to the next. “Tess knew, much in the same way she knew certain facts about Bosnia, Singapore, and the Gaza strip. Parts of Baltimore were foreign countries to her, places she couldn’t reach even with a passport. That was just the way it was, the way it had been, the way it was always going to be (Lippman 16-17).” It was strange to see Tess, as a native Baltimorean, comparing such neighborhoods to such foreign places; but there is truth in her assessment. I do not think I could even locate such places as Bosnia and Singapore on a map without struggle. In the social barrier created by generations of Loyola administration and students, such places seem so far away, but they are in fact closer than we would like to believe. With the Year of the City, maybe we will start tearing down the wall; the wall that has been cutting off our arteries and separating our own community from the other communities of Baltimore.

Prologue

What struck me the most about Laura Lippman’s writing in Butchers Hill was my most initial reaction to the characters in the prologue. Lippman’s writing is nicely detailed in conveying the strain between Luther and the destructive and mischievous young kids. Although I completely disagree with the atrocious act of violence Luther resorts to, I couldn’t help feeling compassion and sympathy for him. I felt badly for him, and as a reader related more to him than the rude young delinquents. Through the prologue, it was hard for me to feel sympathy for the children, which I found disturbing.
The more I pondered the reasoning behind my initial reaction, the more I found answers in Lippman’s writing. I think it is deliberate and strategic that she creates such a sad past for Luther, delving into details about his lost love, Annie. She shows such a sensitive and vulnerable side to Luther, when she opens the novel writing, “He marveled at everything about her- the white rickrack she sewed along the hem and neckline of her dress to give it what she called pizzazz… She would hang, the toes of her bare feet curling in fear as she swung above the street, and he would laugh, he couldn’t help himself… But that was forty years ago and Annie was dead, almost ten years now, and he was alone in their bed” (pg 1 &2). Lippman makes it a point to show how lonely Luther is, and how much he misses Annie.
She further develops his character by making him increasingly pathetic, and at first helpless to the kid’s vandalism. When he first steps out on the front porch he slips and falls, while the young kids, unafraid, mercilessly mock him and laughed at him. They call him old man and tell him to get inside. They saw no threat in him, and had no respect for him, which in turn Luther reciprocates by devastating and extreme manner. Lippman describes in greater detail Luther’s sympathetic characteristics more so than his personal traits that influence him shooting the gun. She does the same for the kids’ characterization, but conversely. She concentrates on the kid’s negative attributes, rather than there more humanizing traits.
Lastly I think Lippman really made Luther appealing to the reader in describing his frustrations with injustice. Lippman writes, “When those kids got started, they took their sweet time, knowing no one would call the police, and it wouldn’t matter if they did. Everyone in the neighborhood, so scared of those little kids, and the cops so indifferent it could make you cry” (pg 3). Every human being can relate to the anger and frustration that comes with being treated unfairly, and I think this is why Luther appealed to me. In reading it I wanted Luther to take action- to make a difference for himself or try to work for justice in the city, but of course I didn’t agree with his violent resolution. I think the prologue is packed with such insightful ideas about the problems of cities, and that Lippman did an effective job of introducing her text.

A novel about Baltimore?

This is the second time I've read through the novel and both times something disturbed me about it. The way it is written seems to put off outsiders, as if the author has a kind of inside knowledge into understanding her own story that anyone outside of the city has to have patiently explained. But Tess doesn't really understand Baltimore herself. Sure she can rattle off the different neighborhoods and the heirarchies and stereotypes associated with them, inserting random bits of trivia, but her intimate knowledge of the city is somewhat off.

I agree with the other posts which suggest that the character of Tess is interested primarily in drawing distinctions within the city. Herself and the poor, herself and the black, herself and the unsafe while also asserting that she can be part of that 'other' city. However, she is never comfortable there. She doens't fit in and she doesn't understand it. I think that's what makes the attitude of superior knowledge of Baltimore so frustrating. Tess is a stranger in the city too, and the constant winding in of facts and name dropping becomes a pretentious effort in over compensation.

Finally, I think the characterization of Baltimore is wrong. I agree with Sarah completely in that Baltimore has always seemed to me the ultimate checkerboard city. There have been times where I've made two wrong turns and ended up in a pretty unsafe area only blocks from large estates. My constant advice to friends and family coming to visit is to never take a road unless you know where it's going. This is not speculation, but experience. Lippman's description of Baltimore as a place where things are either good or bad seems to be an oversimplification and at best a stretch in the truth. The Baltimore I know can go from 'good' to 'bad' in a matter of minutes. Occasionally, details like this disrupted the novel for me because I had to stop and think about how many other differences in perspective there were between me and a native. Is it just because I'm new to Baltimore? Or is Lippman trying to change her own city to better meet an ideal?

Why We Love Violence

Mystery, dead bodies and violence make for good books and good movies, right? I love horror thrillers and I know that a lot of my peers do too. Why is it that we love these types of movies and books? I think that we like these types of stories because they make us uncomfortable, they make our adrenaline rush and most importantly they are not real. I think the last reason is the most important reason, but what happens when things become less fantastic and become more real?
Lippman’s book is a fiction, but is it based on truth? I am a firm believer that every story no matter how ridiculous or impossible has some tiny, miniscule shred of truth in them. Lippman’s book may not be that far from the truth and if it’s not where in or out of our comfort zone does that put us? We are Baltimore residents and Lippman’s book is set in Baltimore, what does it mean to us if anything at all? Should we consider Lippman’s book as an over dramatized piece of fiction or as a glimpse of a Baltimore we don’t belong to?
How does Lippman’s book change our perspective on Baltimore if at all? For me, it only strengthens my dislike for the foster care system. I wonder about Baltimore schools and the direction in which they are heading. I also wonder about (and please forgive me, because this sounds corny) the children, what am I doing to help the children? Although Lippman’s book is fiction, the violence in Baltimore city is not, what does this mean for the Year of the City? What does this mean for Loyola? We are living in a city where the future (the kids) are fated to grow up surrounded by violence and poverty. Where is the city heading and why does it matter to us? Does it become a problem when the line between reality and fiction becomes blurred?

Laylah, Layla

Laura Lippman's character, Tess, represents the drive towrds independant success, accompanied with a hesitation of truly succeeding individually. This drive coupled with hesitation is reminiscent of the attitude of almost any new college gradutae I've ever encountered, aspects of the discussion with our group on Tuesday, and particularly inherent in the attitude of the boys of the St. Ignatius Loyola Academy in Baltimore City. Perhaps the boys' reservations with the possibilities of such success our different from mine, but the principle of why they wish to be educated and established parallels mine, or any other student's for that matter.
There is a wonderful example of the reality of the cultural divide found in this, or any other city: when Tess finds out that Keisha Moore's daughter is named Laylah, she automatically sings a riff from Clapton's classic, "Layla", then stopped abruptly citing her embarassment at the fact that Keisha probably hears that all the time. "Keisha looked puzzled. 'There's a song with my baby's name? Isn't that something? I'd sure like to hear that sometime.' 'Yeah Derek and The Dominoes.' Keisha looked blank. 'You know, Eric Clapton.' 'Oh yeah that guitar player. The one whose little boy fell out the window. The one who did the song with Babyface.' Funny, the different contexts people brought into the world."(55)
The passage illuminates the cultural divide between the two women, but not does not impose any sort of judgment on either reference to Clapton, the icon; I think this exemplifies the importance of the union of the two references, and what you can learn from those outside of your "cultural comfort zone". The St. Ignatius boys often converse about a Baltimore that I know nothing about, but consider it a privelaged window through which to learn about it. Whenever any of the Loyola students discuss school work, or evening plans, the boys are more than enthusiastic to hear all about it, exhibiting their desire to someday participate in a college education, and those very same activities. Our commonality is in the desire to learn form each other, and our divide lies in what we already know about ourselves; the boy shave taught me the value of what I can bring to the table, and the invaluability of learning about others.

An issue that I noticed in Lippman's novel that has brought about the most interest in me are the gentrification and "clean up" Baltimore projects that have been going on pretty much since I've been a freshman, and most likely before that. She discusses the vision of Columbia, MD and also the implementation of the Inner Harbor as parts of these projects, obviously around long before the inner city projects going on currently. But, even though they happened so many years ago, during a different time, they have many similarities and seem to be ringing the same truths.

Lippman writes, "The late developper James Rouse was better known for his much imitated 'festival marketplaces,' from Boston's Faneuil Hall to Baltimore's Harborplace, than he was for his new city. He had wanted to change the way people lived and ended up changing the way tourists shopped" (73-74). This statement seems to further prove my suspicions all along: that Baltimore isn't cleaning up its areas for the lower-income people to have better places, but to bring "better" people into the areas and raise the standard of living.

The projects that are currently taking place in Baltimore aren't done so the poor people that once lived in these dilapidated rowhomes can return to a home that will help them continue to live well and safely. They are being built to resell for many times what they were purchased, in turn raising the cost of living in that neighborhood, only attracting wealthy people to that neighborhood and fostering the flight from the city concept that so many urban areas see. What baffles me even further is when I looked up the exact definition of 'gentrification.' The definition states: "the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses" (dictionary.com). I am just astounded that one leaders of the city would want to do that to begin with and two that they would actually use that word when explaining to Baltimoreans their purpose for the city is. It makes me (and probably should anyone else) question whether these "clean-up Baltimore" projects are really good for the people of the city, or the potential future generations of the city.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why do they have to be black?

The passage that, for me, revealed the most about Tess's character was on page 15 when she says, "'City kids-' she had started to say 'poor black kids,' but caught herself." This, along with several other parts of the novel expose Tess's ignorance of her surrounding community. Her later interaction with Jackie proves this ignorance when she blatently asks for Jackie's help merely because she is black. Jackie tries to explain the case of Treasure and Destiny to her but she does not quite seem to be able to grasp it.
Why is it that we automatically think of black people when we think of inner cities? Although not many people are willing to admit it, I'll bet that one of the first things a person thinks about when they hear about the inner workings of a city is African-Americans. For whatever reason, they symbolize the urban poor. I can speak for myself too. Student teaching in an "urban fringe" school, I think of an urban school and I think of Black students- and I'm not wrong either.
What bothers me even more is that not only do we immediately assume that a conversation about cities is a conversation about black people, but we assume that when we talk about a city we talk about its poverty. In this class, we seem to always return to the poverty and hunger that plagues every major city as if it is the central theme of the class. Cities are much more than that. A bus ride into baltimore is not just about the disinfranchised of our community, but also everything else. Its all of the good parts of a city too. When we read Lippman's novel, we confront the urban poor, the African Americans of the city, but we also encounter Tess's coffee stops, her dinner dates, her descriptions of surrounding communities. Baltimore is as much Fells Point and Loyola College and Charles Village as it is African American row houses and drug ridden neighborhoods.

Living in a Novel World

The first thing I noticed while reading Laura Lippman's Butchers Hill was how much I could identify with the surroudings, so much so that I found myself nodding my head at the end of almost every page. I've never before read a work of fiction about a place that I have lived, and I almost wish I didn't know anything about Baltimore so that I could fully experience Lippman's talent for description, not just my own memory of what she describes. I wish I knew how an outsider would read Butchers Hill - how would they imagine Fell's Point, the Domino Sugar sign and Patterson Park? Would it have the same effect on outside readers or is the power of Lippman's description and insight only truly understood by her fellow Baltimoreans?

I was very much intrigued by the passages in which Tess consults her friends for insider information about Destiny, Treasure, Salamon and Eldon. These kids were forgotten for years; to most people, they seemed unremarkable with neither potential nor promise. How easy it was for the investigators to find information about them once Tess showed interest in locating them! Sometimes I feel like everyone suffering in Baltimore is so distant, lost and beyond reach. But Tess demonstrates how simple it is to actually connect with a person once you care to reach out to them. Sure, she was motivated by a paycheck, but she proves that a person once faceless can, in a moment, be a body with a name, a history and an identity. This is interesting to consider when contemplating Baltimore's pressing issues; all that seem lost are really one person after another who can be touched.

At the end of chapter four, Laura introduces the issue of parental responsibility and children who are influenced negatively by their environments. Tull relays Beales' shocking comment: "'He said to this woman, grieving for her only child, 'If you had been a good mother in the first place, Donnie wouldn't have been living in my neighborhood, and he wouldn't be dead now.'" (44). Tess defends Beales by saying that the boy would have been alive if the mother had done her job and kept him from hanging out on the street in the middle of the night. I'm not sure who to agree with, but one thing is for sure: this takes Jane Jacobs idea about the neighborhood watch to an extreme concept. Beales was so concerned about the vandalism that the kids were causing in the neighborhood that he took it upon himself to kill one of them. It makes me wonder how far we should take the neighborhood watch idea and if Jacobs ever considered a situation like this.

Laura Lippman's Baltimore

Laura Lippman gives readers a glimpse of good Baltimore and the seedier neighborhoods of Baltimore. She describes Fells Point and the gritty row houses on Washington Street and she describes her neighborhood, Butchers Hill, as “an uneasy mix of old-timers, poor folks, and gentrifiers” (21). I think that Butchers Hill is more up-and-coming than it was when Lippman wrote the book (the neighborhood’s website describes it as artsy and a great place for young, single people to live), but her identification of the hierarchy of Baltimore, how the different communities look down upon one another, is very perceptive. Lippman also says that although she could never “accustom herself to [the District of Columbia’s] checkerboard quality, where a block of restored townhouses suddenly gave way to rowhouse slums,” the “neighborhoods [in Baltimore]were good or bad, and it was easy to avoid the trouble spots.” (64).

I always viewed Baltimore as a checkerboard, especially with its grid-patterned streets. I disagree with Lippman that Baltimore neighborhoods are either good or bad. One photograph taken by Baltimoreans for a local art group called Art on Purpose shows two sets of row houses facing each other. A telephone pole divides the photograph neatly down the middle. The row houses on the left side of the street and telephone pole are dark and old and a group of African-American children sit on a stoop. The houses on the right are three stories high and are bright, but austere. (The photograph may be viewed at this link: http://www.urbanitebaltimore.com/sub.cfm?sectionID=4&articleID=523&IssueID=40) The community around Loyola is also an example of the lack of distinctions between “bad” and “good” communities in Baltimore. The houses on Charles Street are beautifully maintained and some are enormous. However, there is a police camera box on Cold Spring Lane (on the other side of York Road) and York Road is less than savory—particularly at nighttime. Despite her claim that Baltimore communities are good or bad, Lippman later says that she felt “like I was in a foreign land less than a mile from my own apartment” (110). She also describes her office’s location as “one of the iffier blocks on Butchers Hill” (8), implying that some blocks of the same community are less safe than others.

It is important that Baltimore institutions and people work together to create consistency in the neighborhoods of Baltimore. It is admirable that neighborhoods such as Butchers Hill and Mount Vernon are distinct by their architecture, but neighborhoods should not be distinguishable by the number of police camera boxes per block or the number of violent crimes that occur. Wealth in Baltimore needs to be more evenly distributed and businesses need to open in the less trafficked neighborhoods. Jane Jacobs suggests in The Death and Life of Great American Cities that crime can be prevented when eyes are on the streets. She further asserts that businesses bring more eyes to the streets in the form of shoppers and shopkeepers watching from windows. In order to revitalize the poorer communities in Baltimore, neighborhood shops need to be opened.

Individual Perspectives in the Same City

Throughout all of our readings we have focused on the fact that in each city the perspective of the city changes depending on the individual. Initially we read Calvino’s Invisible Cities, which held a number of vignettes of cities. Many of those stories focused on the fact that individuals see the same city a different way. Calvino illustrates that these differing perspectives add dimension to the city and allow the many “faces” of the city to develop. We later see this in Achebe’s No Longer at Ease when Lagos is portrayed from both the perspective of the poor and the rich. In Black Rainbow Wendt illustrated the different views of the city between the “Ones” and the other people whom followed the government’s strict rules.

In Laura Lippman’s Butchers Hill she clearly defines the lines between herself and the rest of Butchers Hill, between herself and Luther Beale, between herself and Jackie Weir, and between each of the witnesses to Luther Beale’s crime. I thought the most interesting distinction was between Sal and Treasure. Both of the boys began in the same situation: poor and orphans. It was interesting to see that Lippman took into account that although people begin in the same circumstances, they can end up in very different places later in life. The description of Treasure in the abandoned house was an accurate description of many poor youths in Baltimore. The description of Sal was slightly different than most of the descriptions of inner-city youths. The meeting with Sal was also extremely interesting. When Tess met up with him he was most affected by, “the mention of the other children, Treasure, Destiny, and Eldon” (128.) Even though boys like Sal come out of the ghetto of Baltimore they will never forget their history.

Sal worked hard for an opportunity to get out of the ghetto of Baltimore. He now holds the opportunity to view Baltimore very differently than Treasure, Destiny, and Eldon ever will. His situation very closely related to the students at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy. These students are given the opportunity to get out of the poor ghettos of Baltimore and into prestigious high schools and later, college. If they choose to take this path they will see Baltimore in a different light than their peers who weren’t able to attend St. Ignatius. I had a hard time believing Sal’s statement saying that he only got ahead because he was smarter. All kids should have the same opportunity, but I do agree that certain kids take those opportunities more seriously than others.

Baltimore: A Wealth of Diversity

In her novel Butchers Hill, Laura Lippman gives us an interesting first hand look at the different faces of the city of Baltimore. She describes many different areas, from the ritzy to the run down, thereby illustrating the cultural diversity of Baltimore.

In reference to Butchers Hill, Mr. Beale says, “This neighborhood is worse than it was when I went in. I guess hell got even hotter” (Lippman 11). This area is described as particularly unsafe and decrepit right from the beginning of the novel. Later on in the novel, another economically deprived and unsafe part of the city, Washington Street, is mentioned. Tess says, “The children of Washington Street couldn’t even afford the luxury of running barefoot through their own dreams” (Lippman 57). This bold statement describes the true atmosphere of certain parts of Baltimore, and on a larger scale, all cities. In addition to her description of these areas, Lippman incorporates wealthy areas of Baltimore into her novel, which gives us a full picture of Baltimore. Tess says, “Clarkesville is home to some of the ritziest subdivisions around” (Lippman 77). However, this town had changed, according to Tess. She had remembered it as “farmland, a few simple houses scattered among trees” (Lippman 78). Therefore, even newly developed areas may have started as something completely opposite, which illustrates the ever-changing nature of all cities. The upper class area of Columbia is referred to as “utopian” (Lippman 118). In addition, the Harborplace is mentioned as one of the newer, more “touristy” areas of Baltimore. Clearly, there are many different sides of Baltimore, as is true of any city.

The more I explore cities, the more apparent it becomes that cities can be summed up in one word-diversity. Even a city that is considered somewhat wealthy has its poor sections and multicultural areas. Cities attract all different types of people, which can be appealing or not, depending on the individual. The novel Butchers Hill sums up this recurring theme of diversity perfectly when Tess says, “Rich Baltimore, poor Baltimore. Old Baltimore, those folks who can trace their blue blood all the way back to the Ark and Dove, and immigrant Baltimore. I just never thought I’d feel like I was in a foreign land less than a mile from my own apartment” (Lippman 110). Although the feeling of being a stranger amidst many people can be intimidating to some, it can also be an eye-opening experience. I believe that exposure to the areas of Baltimore other than Fells Point and the Harbor can allow everyone to expand their horizons a bit and perhaps discover something exciting. Either way, encountering diversity in the city is a chance for everyone to broaden their limited vantage point. Loyola College may be one of the most homogenous campuses around according to Princeton Review, but we have opportunities for encountering diversity, which most college students do not have available. If we venture out into the city (especially the lesser visited, but still safe parts), we may be able to at least witness, if not interact, with the diverse Baltimore that Lippman describes.

Families in Butchers Hill

Laura Lippman’s descriptions of life in the inner-city are harsh, as they highlight the details of the dysfunctional family and the conditions that result from a lack of care for oneself. Is this portrayal accurate, or is it just a stereotype that agrees with other depictions of city life?

The families in Butchers Hill are wrought with a lack of concern for family members, the inability to have a traditional family, and substance abuse. The first description of a family that Lippman gives highlights the possibility for children to run amuck without their parents’ knowledge, free to cause destruction: “There were five of them, all foster kids living with that young Christian couple. Nice as could be, well intentioned but they couldn’t do a damn thing with these kids. Couldn’t even keep them in nice clothes. Just kept taking kids in and watching helplessly as they ran wild” (Lippman 3-4). The Nelsons’ foster children, although taken into their home with the hopes that the family could provide them with stability, are not given the guidance and discipline that they need early in life. Beale blames the children, saying that they could not be tamed, but one also has to contemplate the role of the parents and their efforts to teach the children that they need to show self-control. Instead, the children are released to the dangers that the city may hold, such as death as a punishment for their actions: “[Beale] could have caught them, if he wanted. Instead, he fired again, then again, the gun a living thing in his hand, separate and apart from him…The littlest one stumbled and fell, and now the skinny one was screaming, high and thin like a girl” (Lippman 4-5). The Nelsons took the children into their care, but did not ardently attempt to guide the children in their endeavors. They state that they made great efforts to assist the children, and attribute their lack of discipline to the school system: “If George and I have learned anything from our…missteps over the years, it’s that it’s no use rearing children right, only to send them into schools where our teaching is undone” (Lippman 67). The Nelsons’ lack of experience with integrating their foster children into their family and with giving them the discipline that they need contributed to their failure with the children that destroyed Beale’s car.

This lack of a traditional family setting is echoed in Keisha Moore’s situation in which she is left to care for her nephews because her brother, their father, abandoned their family: “No, these are my brother’s children. / Where’s your brother? / Gone.” (Lippman 54). There is no male figure present to guide the boys as they age, and Keisha’s care for them is inadequate as the reader can see when Tess comments on the fact that no one took the time to remove their shoes as they slept (Lippman 57) and ignores their cries as they sleep (Lippman 56). Although Keisha is attempting to help her sister-in-law with her children, she does not care for them as much as she cares for her own daughter, Laylah, as she takes the time to change her, to answer to her cries, and to nestle her nose in her neck (Lippman 54-56). Keisha is unable and unwilling to care for the boys properly just as her sister, Tonya, is unable to care for herself as she succumbs to the vice of substance abuse: “She might have looked younger, too, if not for crack cocaine, which had cooked her body down until it was nothing more than a little skin stretched over some long, knobby bones. Or perhaps her habit was heroin” (Lippman 52). Tonya does not take the time to realize that her actions will only lead to her self-destruction and thus to another sorrow that Keisha must bear. Even Keisha does not take the time and effort to confront her sister about her problem in the hopes of reforming her ways. None of the families in the inner-city of Baltimore is depicted in a positive light in that they are all the victims of lack of care.

I know a myriad of families in the Baltimore area, some mirroring the situations of the families that Lippman portrays, yet all differing from them in that these families recognize from the beginning that the parents must play an active part in their children’s lives; they recognize that their children must be taught to look forward to their futures as being able to contribute to the growth of the city. On the other hand, I also know families where the children are not disciplined and thus have had experiences with drugs, with promiscuous behavior, and with violence, sometimes involving weapons. The children of these families, however, have expressed to me their desires to continue their education where they let it falter in order to acquire steady employment. They recognize that they need to escape their cycles of destructive behavior, and yet they still seem to revert back to it. I hope that Lippman’s portrayals become mere stereotypes as the younger generations learn that they need to take an active role in their futures in order to ensure their success.