Fathers and Sons
The story opens with Greg avoiding his father and ends with him eagerly returning home to him. Meeting Lemon Brown, who defines his treasure as what a man ‘‘can pass on to his son,’’ changes Greg’s estimation of his father. Lemon’s fatherly guidance and protection during the encounter with the thugs opens Greg’s eyes to ways in which his own father has tried to protect and secure a good life for his son. Furthermore, hearing the story of Lemon and Jesse Brown’s relationship inspires Greg to listen to his father with greater openness and trust.
Heritage and Identity
Young people can carve out an identity for themselves by learning about the history and aspirations of their ancestors. At the opening of the story, Greg’s desire to identify with something can be seen in his pride in being selected to play basketball withtheScorpions.Heisdevastatedwhenhisfather refuses to let him play on account of his grades. When he meets Lemon Brown, he is searching for a way to define himself, having rejected his father’s ideas about school and having been barred from playing basketball. Lemon’s stories help him see two ways in which African Americans have defined who they are as a people. First, Greg hears about Lemon’s past life as a blues musician, singing music with roots extending back through the experience of slavery to African cultural traditions. Secondly, he also hears about Lemon’s pride in his son’s military service and death while at war for his country, referring to the long and proud history of African American veterans. These stories of tradition and sacrifice inspire Greg to reassess what his own father might have to offer him in the way of stories about heritage.
Coming of Age
The climax of the story illustrates a coming-ofage process for Greg. When the thugs move into the abandoned building to attack Lemon Brown, Lemon urges Greg to hide. He squeezes ‘‘Greg’s hand in his own hard, gnarled fist,’’ a fatherly gesture of love and protection. But rather than simply watching Lemon fight back, Greg decides to help out. He decides to make the scene ‘‘even eerier’’ by howling as Lemon stands at the top of the stairs, so that the thugs will be scared off by the ghostlike figure. At first Greg cannot howl (‘‘nothing came out’’), and he must try again. His efforts, combined with Lemon Brown’s jump, drive the men from the house.
Greg’s decision and determination at this climactic moment reveal his maturation over the course of the story. He rises to a challenging situation, thinks about someone besides himself, and succeeds at defending himself and his new friend, an elder who deserves respect even if he lacks a home. Helping Lemon Brown and listening to his story helps him to better understand his own father. He may not become an ‘‘A’’ math student, but he has become a stronger, more mature person by the end of the story.
Greg’s encounter with Lemon Brown teaches him, and readers of the story, that homeless people are not invisible—rather, people without homes are still people with stories, pride, and skills. Greg literally does not see Lemon when he first walks into the abandoned building. In fact, he mistakes him for ‘‘a pile of rags or a torn mattress.’’ After Greg identifies him as the old man he has seen ‘‘picking through the trash on the corner and pulling clothes out of a Salvation Army box,’’ Greg doubts that Lemon could actually have any sort of treasure. Because Lemon is homeless, Greg does not take him seriously. But after learning about his experiences as a musician and as a father, Greg realizes that Lemon is a human being who deserves respect.
Homelessness is also typically seen as a weakness, a notion which Lemon puts to rest after he defends both himself and Greg from the thugs who attack to get to his treasure. By protecting them, Lemon demonstrates that he has survival skills, which is impressive considering both his age and the harshness of the life he has lived. Though Lemon Brown might not be a typical homeless person, or even a realistic one, he does illustrate that although those who live in the streets may lack homes, they still possess dignity, strength, and wisdom.
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