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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Rules

 “Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself” compiled into one place would be a coming-of-age guidebook for how to navigate between the worlds of childhood and adulthood. Bud’s Rules, in various iterations depending on the situation, appear throughout Curtis’ book as a motif that supports the theme of learning how to trust adults. Nearly every time Bud references a Rule, it is to get out of a difficult situation he finds himself in with adults. Bud’s Rules seem like ways to compensate of the failures of adults around him to care for Bud. But Bud is also wise beyond his years, so survival sometimes takes precedence over the Rules. Bud relies on his Rules until they are no longer necessary. At the end of his story, Bud has finally found his home and adults he can count on, so he doesn’t have to make up his own rules anymore.

Smells

The senses have a mysterious way of calling forth memories and evoking strong emotions. Curtis uses the sense of smell as a motif to highlight important memories and experiences of belonging. For example, Bud describes in detail the smell of the library, which awakens feelings of comfort and sleepiness in him. Clearly, the library is a place where he feels safe and is also a place where he has spent a lot of time, likely with his momma. The smell of Bud’s blanket helps him fall asleep: “I pulled my blanket right up over my head and breathed in the smell real deep. … And that smell always reminded me of Momma and how she used to read me to sleep every night.” Bud also fixates on the smell of food because he is hungry, such as when he eats with his “pretend family,” with Lefty Lewis’ family, and at the Sweet Pea with the band. Toward the end of this story, Bud breathes in deeply the smell of his new saxophone case, committing this new smell to his memory and to the new beginnings it symbolizes.

Doors: Closing and Opening

The age-old wisdom in Momma’s words, telling him whenever one door closes that another opens, gives Bud the optimism he needs to make his way through adversity as he searches for his family. The motif of opening and closing doors recurs through the story and becomes the lens for how Bud interprets his experiences. Doors would close and open, Bud says, “like the door at the Home closing leading to the door at the Amoses opening and the door in the shed opening leading to me sleeping under a tree getting ready to open the next door.” This motif expresses the hope Bud is able to maintain in spite of the obstacles he faces, until the happy ending to his story: “I could tell those were the squeaks and squawks of one door closing and another one opening.”