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“Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun” by Geoffrey Canada


The history of humanity contains a wide range of negative events and experiences, which appear to be traumatic for people, who have to overcome them. This statement definitely refers to periods, when dreadful wars happened, extinguishing the population’s life and constraining people to work at their limits and forget about their needs and comfort. It is also worthy to note that the aforementioned occasions are connected to the daily routine of some groups of the populations regardless of war situations. For instance, remembering the recent past of America, it can be evident that despite the peaceful period of the country’s history, some citizens had to struggle with their living standards. The reason for it is the fact that they had to encounter fear and danger for their lives on a regular basis. Geoffrey Canada describes similar situations in his book Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence, which pays attention to violence in his neighborhood.

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The book presents a memoir of the author Geoffrey Canada about living in an inner city of the South Bronx during his childhood. The book covers the period of the 1950s and 1960s, and that area is considered to be one of the most dangerous ones during this time. The work of literature traces the author’s transformation from a four-year-old child to a young man. The main focus of the book is the violence, which Geoffrey Canada had to experience during this age. At first, the writer encountered a situation involving a cruel attitude to people second-handly. He witnessed his elder brothers Dan and John had to overcome their fear in order to return their thing. In more detail, John’s jacket was stolen during the walk in the peak, and their mother insisted on receiving the garment back. The brothers were frightened but had to obey the mother’s persistence. This way, the young author learned one of the main codes of behavior in the South Bronx.

Some time after, Canada faced violence personally, when he was asked to buy a can of beans by his mother, and his friend robed his spare change. The boy struggled to overcome his fear to defend himself and gradually learned to fight back. He acknowledged the hierarchies of young manhood in his area and the fact that fighting is a typical activity among boys. Adolescents, who cannot defend themselves, are disrespected by others and beaten by the group.

One of the most meaningful meetings for the author during this period was his acquaintance with Mike. His friend both obtained necessary knowledge on survival in the streets and performed at school on a decent level, so he generously shared his experience and skills with Canada. Together, boys had to encounter other occasions, which involved violence in relation to them. One of them appeared to be extremely illustrative of the dead of the situation in the South Bronx. One day Canada was playing sidewalk chess with friends, when suddenly, in the middle of the game, he was captured by a grown man and a girl. The first one was holding a gun, and the girl had a rifle in her hands. Canada saved himself by fleeing and hiding in the stairwell of one of the nearest buildings. This case demonstrated that even ordinary life could be dangerous in the South Bronx.

The writer also recollects the period of his life when he was studying at college. Although he moved to another place, Canada had to return to his previous neighborhood on holidays. He purchased a personal gun in order to protect himself when he noticed that the number of gangs in the streets had increased. This chapter also contains some of his reflections on his behavior changes, namely, he became more aggressive without a particular purpose and defiant. After returning to the college, he thought of the destructive effect of gun usage and threw it away finally.


As is evident from Canada’s narration, the author intends to cover the topic of violence associated with the daily routine of some groups of the population. He is determined to highlight the dread of their lifestyle, where fights and weapons are a common sight (Canada 1995). The writer reveals how it influenced his mentality, worldview, and behavior. He is willing to draw the public’s attention to this issue by describing his childhood in one of the most dangerous areas of the U.S, as Canada believes it could contribute to changing the situation. Fulfilling this aim, the author also regards other related topics.

First of all, structural racism was one of the most hot-button issues during the 1950-the 1960s, which the narrator’s family had to encounter to a large extent. The term “racism” is rarely used in the book, though it affects the everyday routine of the entire South Bronx. The majority of the population in this area was black and Latinos. Describing his school, Canada claims that there were only “a few white students whose parents had not yet managed to flee the crumbling tenements of the Bronx” (Canada 1995: 42). Structural racism was also one of the most widespread causes of poverty among South Bronx residents, as it straightly affected the income of people (Canada 1995). Being a black woman, Canada’s mother was paid a minimum wage regardless of her qualifications and experience. In addition, she had to foster her children alone, and for this reason, their living was full of problems and restrictions.

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The author demonstrates that racism has become self-perpetuating in the context of this region. While people adhere to such prejudices against one group of the population, they become even more acceptable among other people. Geoffrey Canada attempts to find the cause of this racism cycle and asks the following questions: “What happens when the enemy is us? What happens when those American children are mostly black and brown?” (Canada 1995: 123). He also predicts that in the future, the violence, which is characteristic of the South Bronx, may spread among other regions. Consequently, covering the topic of violence, the writer also addresses the issue of racial harassment.

Secondly, codes of machismo appear to be another topic, which the narrator is willing to reveal. Throughout the entire book, Canada had to stick to specific rules of behavior, which are respected in male gangs in the South Bronx. One of the codes is “because of the unpredictability of life in the South Bronx, you had to learn how to dominate your emotions” (Canada 1995: 61). They are helpful for coping with the violence and lawlessness of his neighborhood (Canada 1995). The most respect was granted to those fighters, who had “hearts”, which meant “having heart meant that you were unafraid, that you would fight, even if you could not beat the other boy” (Canada 1995: 49). In addition, these codes are close to the traditional perception of manliness.

The last issue, addressed by Geoffrey Canada, is the destabilizing impact of guns, which were used in the area of his residence. The following phrase characterizes the situation properly: “Little did we know that one day guns would forever change the codes of conduct that we worked so hard to learn and live up to” (Canada 1995:65). Interestingly, the author traced how the codes of behavior and his mentality changed with the appearance of guns, as their appliance was growing in popularity while he was growing up (Canada 1995). Geoffrey Canada marks: “when I look back on the power the gun had over my personality and my judgment, I am amazed” (Canada 1995: 115). He highlights the dreadful power of this weapon and the tendency of its spreading – the more frequently people use guns, the more acceptable this fact becomes.


This way, the writer manages to fulfill his purposes to cover the topic of violence as a part of the everyday routine and show its dread to the readers. Although the book highlights the necessity to prevent the situation, which is close to the one in the South Bronx during the 1950-the 1960s, it does not contain any practical steps to solving this problem. This issue may appear to be a matter of further discussion on the topic of violence prevention.

Another issue, which is highlighted in the book in detail, is structural racism. Its impact on the living standards of particular groups of the population cannot be underestimated. It prevents them from receiving an appropriate job and living a decent life and affect their children too. For this reason, the necessity to advance ideas of its intervention should be discussed. In addition, the author addresses the topic of destructive influence of gun usage. Describing the negative consequences of its applying in the South Bronx, Geoffrey Canada stimulates the readers to reconsider their attitude to this event and understand all the dread, which weapon brings.

This work of literature can be highly recommended to read for sociology and criminal justice students. It provides deep insight into the lifestyle of people, who have to encounter criminal actions on a regular basis. As for sociology, it can present a topic of particular scientific interest to explore the causes of illegal behavior and advance appropriate changes in order to improve the situation. Criminal justice students may receive necessary information on the motives of committing crimes, which is highly likely to be beneficial for their practice.


A memoir of Geoffrey Canada, Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence, reveals the life of discriminated groups of the population in the 1950-the 1960s and describes the violence they face every day. Being a resident of one of the most dangerous areas, South Bronx, he manages to provide the readers with particular details of this lifestyle, which definitely leaves an impression. The author draws the attention of the board public to this issue and demonstrates that it cannot be acceptable. In addition, there is a threat that such acts of violence may become common in other regions. For this reason, the solution to this problem should be elaborated urgently.

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Geoffrey Canada. 1995. Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence. Beacon Press.

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