The past couple of weeks we have been looking at picaros from different eras. Here is a recap with some links.
First, we looked at New York Magazine‘s article about Frank Lucas.
It couldn’t have been any other way, Lucas insists, after the Ku Klux Klan came to the shack where he grew up and killed his cousin. “I couldn’t have been more than 6. We were living back in the woods near a little place they call La Grange, North Carolina. These five white guys come up to the house one morning, big rednecks . . . they’re yelling, ‘Obadiah . . . Obadiah Jones . . . come out. Come out, you nigger . . .’ They said he was looking at a white girl walking down the street. ‘Reckless eyeballing,’ they call it down there.
“Obadiah was like 12 or 13, and he come out the door, all sleepy and stuff. ‘You been looking at somebody’s daughter. We’re going to fix you,’ they said. They took ropes on each hand, pulled them tight in opposite directions. Then they shoved a shotgun in Obadiah’s mouth and pulled the trigger.”
It was then, Lucas says, that he began his life of crime. “I was the oldest. Someone had to put food on the table. I started stealing chickens. Knocking pigs on their head . . . It wasn’t too long that I was going over to La Grange, mugging drunks when they come out of the whorehouse. They’d spent their $5 or $6 buying ass, head jobs, then I’d be waiting with a rock in my hand, a tobacco rack, anything.”
By the time he was 12, “but big for my age,” Lucas says, he was in Knoxville, Tennessee, locked up on a chain gang. In Lexington, Kentucky, not yet 14, he lived with a lady bootlegger. In Wilson, North Carolina, working as a truck driver at a pipe company, he started in sleeping with the owner’s daughter. This led to problems, especially after “Big Bill, a fat, 250-pound beer-belly bastard” caught them in the act. In the ensuing fight, Frank hit Bill on the head with a piece of pipe, laying him out.
“They didn’t owe me but $100, but I took $400 and set the whole damned place on fire.” Told by his mother to run and keep running, he bummed his way northward.
A very picaro start. Does this make you feel sorry for him? We compared him to Pablos and Lazarillo, and I bet we could think of some similarities he had with Monipodio as well.
Next, we looked at this clip from the wire.
This is one of my favorite scenes of television. Chess is a metaphor for gang life, and you have two picaros getting an important lesson. Dantrell even mentioned chess when he made his glog about The Swindler.
This week we are watching Oliver Twist, based on Charles Dickens’ famous Victorian novel.
Oliver certainly seems like the most honest and good-hearted picaro we’ve come across in our studies. What did you think of the movie?
I know my students might not believe this, but I’m not the only person who sees connection in all these different stories. An online magazine/blog created an FAKE analysis of The Wire, as if it was a book written by a man around the same time as Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist. It’s astonishing how many similarities the two dramas have in common.
And finally, I’ve been going the extra mile in my own time, reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It’s very common to have to read this book in high school, but somehow I missed the opportunity. (That seems exceptionally unusual based on the fact I grew up in the same state the book takes place!) But I’m finally reading it for the first time, and it’s fascinating how much Lazarillo and Huck and Oliver have in common.
I’m so excited to have our Socratic Seminar next week on our driving question – What is a picaro and how have they evolved?