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Posted on October 12th, 2012, by

The problem of adolescent violence is still up to date in contemporary America. Despite great effort of the American government and social services every year millions of children and grown ups become victims of violence and domestic abuse.  This problem requires scrupulous attention of the publicity and Alex Kotlowitz in his book There Are No Children Here makes an attempt to attract public attention to the problem.

His book depicts life of two boys in the violence-driven district of Chicago. The book creates a very realistic picture of terrible conditions of life and constant threat to life two little brothers, Pharoah and Lafeyette, experience since the first day of their lives. The story shows how the world of adults ruins the lives and hopes of small children. The book is very valuable because it gives readers an opportunity to get an idea about the kind of life people have in poor subways. The information in the book can be hard to perceive as it contains a lot of descriptions of violence and abuse, but this experience is very valuable for everybody who has courage and desire to investigate reasons of violence in the society. Readers do not only read the truth about the life of the American subway but also become sympathetic to the lives of two small boys, who have to find their ways and make their choices in this difficult surrounding.  Boys must choose their life position but to great extend these positions are greatly determined by their neighborhood. Gang wars, police deficiencies and terrible poverty are habitual for the characters of the book.

The title of the book is very characteristic. The author used the words of the boys’ mother: There are no children here to describe the life of children in the community. The mother assumes that life is too difficult for her sons that they must become grown ups much earlier than other boys of their age. They have must choices and decisions which are not too difficult for such young age. The author does not create an idealistic picture and readers can see that boys do not escape the poisoning influence of their surrounding. From the other side knowing all the story of the boys the readers can hardly judge them as day after day they see how their friends and close people die in gang wars or because of drugs or end up in prisons. They also see how their mother makes her best trying to earn her living and see how the state fails to give any help to people like them.

Social surrounding gives boys certain role models and determines their choices. The book would be very helpful for everybody who is interested in the influence of surrounding on human behavior. The book illustrates very vividly to which extend environment defines the development of a personality.  Reading this book it becomes difficult to deny the impact of the surrounding on the individual. Destinies of two small boys are determined by it to a great extend. Their mother expresses great concerns for their future and she is absolutely reasonable doing so. She sees destinies of her older children and she does not believe that something better will happen to her younger ones.

Her oldest son had constant problems with law and now he is imprisoned for the robbery, her daughter is a prostitute, other children also have minor chances to reach success in life.

The author tells a story of real people of flesh and blood. The narration is based on real facts but literary genius of the author adds artistic details and makes the narration more interesting and appealing to readers. Despite the story speaks about hardships and problems, readers still do not lose hope for the better future of the small characters of the book.

Pharaoh and Lafeyette are greatly influenced by the surrounding but still they want to overcome violence and discrimination they face in their community. In story it looks like a horror story for readers from respectful parts of the city. A lot of people have not only never seen things described in the book, but also can not image them in their most terrible dreams. That is the good point of the book. It sheds light on serious social vices, such as racism, social injustice and inequality, which are still present in the American society. Early in America’s history, women were viewed as the property of men, much like children or slaves, who could be punished physically for not obeying orders (Prah, p. 10). Most people think that these hard times are in the past and now children may grow in normal conditions and have a happy future.

Unfortunately, there are still problems in our society and such problems as violence, poverty, abuse and drug addition should not be neglected. The life of communities like this is often hidden from publicity, but people in this community also deserve for governmental support and compassion of other people. The book shows another world, not familiar to the most of American population.

Personal and documentary style of narration makes the characters very close to readers. Boys have to meet a lot of hardships and their reality is gloomy and sad. At the same time readers can see their inner strength and desire to find the way out of the situation they are trapped in. The story gives glimpses of hope from time to time and readers can see that people who live in these communities are the same people as the rest people of the world with their hopes, desires and problems. They also want to have a happy future and hope for normal life. Unfortunately, difficult life conditions give them less opportunities than to other people, but the hope still exists. This hope has even more chances to become reality if readers of the book take seriously the problems described and take the decision to help.

Governmental and social support is very important for poor urban communities. For children like Lafeyette and Phraoh, the protagonists of the book, this help becomes almost the only means to survive and to have a normal life in the future.

Education is another important factor which can help children and teenagers from poor communities to make a good career and have a normal life in the future. The story does not give many facts about Lafeyette’s school experience, but Paraoh’s school life is depicted. Both, Lafeyette and Pharaoh have so difficult life that readers sometimes forget that the protagonist of the story are only boys of nine and eleven years old, but they are still children and have to choose their life path, preferences and their future. The author follows boys as they grow up and become mature and records their lives to give readers ideas about what it is like to be born and grow up in the place like the Henry Horner project. Boys have to find their ways living in the troubled area like the one described. For readers from normal areas it is hard to image the life where there is no certainty if you will be alive in the near future. As states the character of the book: If I grow up, I’d like to be a bus driver(Kotlowitz, 1992, p.13). These words illustrate very vividly to which extend the life of children is endangered. They have to experience constant threat not only from the side of their mates, but also from the side of grown ups, who demonstrate all kinds of violent and abusive behavior. Even the police, which should come as a protector to these people, very often demonstrates inadequate and unfair attitude to people from this community.

The style of narration helps the author to provoke emotional reaction among the readers. The characters are lively and bright and they easily find their ways to the hearts of the readers. LaJoe, boys’ mother, is caring and generous. Even in the most difficult circumstances she finds the way to help people. A shy, soft spoken woman, LaJoe was often known for her generosity Many young men and women called her mom (Kotlowitz, 1992, p.10).  Her children are also bright and lively personalities, and each of them has his own history and much of good and bad experiences to share with the readers. The readers get emotionally attached to the characters of the book.

The scenes of violence are not rare in the book. They serve to the ultimate purpose of the author and help him to recreate the world and everyday life of the characters and the community. The readers have to see other norms of violence while they read the book. The author gives shocking details and facts which have great impact on readers and show the scope of the problem. For example, he writes: Apparently the man everyone was assaulting had fondled an eight- year- old boy in a vacant fourth- floor apartment. No one thought to call the police (Kotlowitz, 1992, p.225).  Episodes like this are often depicted in the book. They are shocking and have hard emotional impact on the readers, but at the same time they are necessary as they provoke thinking and making necessary conclusions. For many people the cases of abuse sound like something distanced and not true to life .

The book shows the life of the community where these cases are treated rather like something normal than exceptional. Kids, who often try to follow and copy adults meet the patters of violent and abusive behavior. Grown ups, who always serve as an example for younger generations become the example of deviant behavior and children and youngsters day to day adapt these behavioral patters. In the contemporary psychology there is a term of background violence. This term is used for people who faced or experienced violence and abuse in their past. These people are more likely to become abusers themselves in the future (Foa, Kozak, 1986). The book gives a vivid illustration how this mechanism functions in reality.  In many parts of the book it becomes a mere account of crime, violence and abuse.

The reading sometimes becomes hard but at the same time truthfulness of the narration makes it very useful for those, who want to get a right idea of the life under the constant pressure of violence and abuse. All latest research and psychological analysis show that prevention of the crime is much more effective and much more profitable for the state. The book shows that punishment is not always effective because in many cases criminal inclinations become the result of the upbringing and the influence of the surrounding.  Pharaoh and Lafeyette do not have other role models except for the ones they see in the family and in the surrounding, and there they see different kinds of deviant behavior and abuse.  Of course personal choice and personal characteristics play important role for the development of the personality, but in troublesome surroundings, like the one described in the book children have not only to deal with their inner traits but also with the pressure of the surrounding. Abuse and violence are serious vice of the contemporary society. Over their lifetime, 22.7% of women and 14.9% of men reported being a victim of domestic assault (British Medical Association, 2002). These facts are serious enough in order to attract attention of the publicity to the problem. The study of the roots of violence and abuse can become very helpful when dealing with them. Looking for the roots of the problem can become very helpful when dealing with them. In the case with violence and abuse very often people do not think about poverty.

People rarely link together violence and poverty rate but statistics show that connection is obvious. Income level has great influence on abuse and crime rates. According to the statistics people who have low income are more likely to manifest abusive and violent behaviour. They turn to criminal behaviour more often.  Low income is often recorded in the families where abuse occurs. This correlation can be explained in several ways. In some cases low income and poverty becomes such a serious problem that it creates a threat to physical existence of the person and he or she has to turn to crime in order to survive.

Some people turn to crime because they do not have the most necessary things, such as food and clothes. Health problems also often appear among people with low income. This situation becomes even harder when several poor families live in one community. Problems of each family and each individual of the community influence all the rest members and create additional problems. All these facts are rarely loudly advertised and little people know the truth about poverty and the level of life in poor regions of the country.

The book sheds light on the problem of violence, drug addiction, crime rate in America. To great extend these social vices are conditioned by the surrounding and the author of There Are No Children Here illustrates very vividly this process using his research data. The book shows terrible conditions of life which become ruining for human psychics, especially for the psychics of young boys. The reading is very useful and informative not only for ordinary readers but also for all those who are responsible for normal functional of police and social organizations. The book shows obviously that these organizations fail for the districts life the one described in the book. Punishment is not the best way to deal with crime and abuse.

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