Jesse Brown is the deceased son of Lemon Brown. When Jesse was little, Lemon traveled around playing the blues in order to support Jesse and his mom.
After the death of Lemon’s wife, Jessewasraised by his aunt. Lemon tells Greg that ‘‘when the war come, he saw fit to go off and fight in it.’’ After Jesse dies while serving (likely in World War II), the armyreturnsthebundleofnewspaperclippingsand a harmonica that he carried there to his father, who had given it to him before he left. This bundle, as well as the memory of his son’s pride in him, becomes Lemon’s treasure.
Lemon Brown is the character whose ‘‘treasure’’ teaches Greg the lesson at the heart of the story. Lemon is an old man, likely in his seventies or eighties, whom Greg at first thinks of only as someone he has seen picking through trash in the neighborhood. Because of their conversation, Greg learns that Lemon, once known as ‘‘Sweet Lemon Brown,’’ was once a blues singer and harmonica player who traveled around the South performing. His son’s death seems to be part of the ‘‘hard times’’ that have caught up with Lemon in recent years. Now he is homeless and dressed in tattered clothes, kept warm by rags tied around the parts of his body the clothes do not cover. As hard as his life seems, Lemon takes pride in his treasure, the memory of who he was and what it meant to his son. This helps him to protect himself in the bold ways Greg sees when Lemon confronts thugs in the abandoned building. Lemon teaches Greg how to be proud of himself.
Greg is the protagonist, or main character of the story. He is a fourteen-year-old high school student who lives in Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City. At the beginning of the story, he is walking outside alone, facing the disappointment that has come from his father’s refusal to let him play basketball because of his poor academic performance. Greg’s encounter with Lemon Brown in an abandoned house leads him to better understand why his father has such high expectations for him. At the beginning of the story Greg feels frustrated by his father’s nagging; by the end, he is racing home excited to see his dad, pressing the ‘‘button over the bell marked Ridley’’ to let his dad know he is home. His smile, even when he thinks about ‘‘the lecture he knew his father would give him,’’ shows that Greg has become proud of himself. Lemon’s story of his son gives Greg a stronger sense of identity.
Greg Ridley’s Father
Greg Ridley’s father has high expectations for his teenaged son. This is because he has had a hard life and wants a better one for Greg. Mr. Ridley often reminds Greg that he had to drop out of school when he was thirteen, and he wishes he ‘‘had half the chances’’ that Greg has in life. For as long as Greg has been alive, Mr. Ridley has worked for the post office, a job that he only got after studying hard to pass an exam. He takes pride in his job despite its tediousness, but wants a better, brighter future for his son. This is why he constantly reminds Greg that it is important to work hard in school.
Three men from the neighborhood come into the abandoned house where Greg and Lemon Brown are talking. Greg recognizes them as neighborhood thugs and notes that one of them is armed. The men believe that Lemon Brown’s treasure has monetary value and intend to threaten or harm him until they get it. Standing up to them brings Lemon and Greg closer together. The thugs may also remind Greg of the kind of aimless, mean life his father does not want him to lead. Success at school will help Greg avoid growing up to become a thug himself.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Walter Dean Myers, Published by Gale Group, 2010