Kotlowitz is believed to have asked their mother for permission to write about her boys and their family and surroundings. Allowing him to do so, the mother had famously said that there were no children in the Henry Horner Homes meaning that the brutal living conditions prevailing there had robbed the youngsters of their innocence.
Alex Kotlowitz's hard hitting tale of the Rivers family exposes Chicago's underbelly and laying bare the harsh truth of the extreme poverty, hopelessness, racial discrimination, violence and insecurity of life that defines the world of the ghetto people. Inadequate schools, welfare dependence, governmental apathy, unemployment as well as lack of skills, drug wars and so on all play a major role in the plight of American inner-city life.
The book chronicles the breakdown of the entire community where pain and sorrow is such a constant it is not acknowledged. Where young children harden early having attended more funerals than feasts and needing to run home from school to try and avoid being killed in crossfire and so live another day. Thus in another poignant quote, Lafeyette only 10 years old, observes matter-of-factly that if (not when) he grows up he would like to be a bus driver.
In spite of all the seemingly hopeless, directionless confusion, the author believes things can still be turned round and tries to do his bit for the two boys by funding their education. However, this is just a drop in the ocean and drastic measures are required to ensure children are not deprived of their childhood.
At another level of analysis, the Rivers family, central to Kotlowitz's story of the 'projects' lends itself to an investigation of the social system that seems to be the norm in areas like Horners Homes. It meets the requirement of Parsons'(Parsons, T. 1951, p5 as cited in Andrew Roberts) definition of a social system that says:
A social system consists in a plurality of individual actors interacting with each other in a situation which has at least a physical or environmental aspect, actors who are motivated in terms of a tendency to the "optimization of gratification" and whose relation to their situations, including each other, is defined and mediated in terms of a system of culturally structured and shared symbols."
However, this social system fails to hold together when Parsons' AGIL model required for the 'orderly smoothly functioning society is applied to it.
For a social system to survive Parson identified four basic needs also called social system needs or functional needs. In other words to strive towards social equilibrium or a smoothly functioning society, any social system would need to have as goals the following:
Adaptation, Goal-attainment, Integration and Latency or pattern maintenance
Adaptation: This refers to adaptation of a society to its eco-system. This requires a mechanism to allocate resources and in a social system would be directed by the economy.
Goal-attainment: To use resources to achieve certain ends, social systems usually rely on political institutions to help achieve the goals.
Integration: To maintain internal order, to ensure values are maintained and symbolized, social systems follow various religions. Integration also maintains a solidarity that