Deacon King Kong

by

James McBride

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Deacon King Kong: Chapter 20: Plant Man Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After the events at the pier, Sportcoat hides in Rufus’s basement and spends his days eating, sleeping, and drinking King Kong. Every day, Rufus returns to him with news about Hot Sausage and Deems. At the moment, both Hot Sausage and Deems are alive, well, and in the hospital. However, the police are still looking for Sportcoat, as are Sportcoat’s various employers. Additionally, “some unusual-looking white men” are after Sportcoat as well.
Because Sportcoat doesn’t know what else to do with himself, he resorts to his vice: drinking. At this point, he finally seems to realize that his life is in danger because he’s actually laying low. Evidently, Rufus has done a good job of keeping Sportcoat’s location a secret; no one else knows he is there.
Themes
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
However, Sportcoat doesn’t care about all of the people looking for him. Instead, he spends all of his time thinking about the night of the shooting and pulling Deems out of the water. He and Hettie had always wanted to jump into the New York water together at night, but they never did. Like many of the resolutions he and Hettie made with each other, he never followed through. Although Hettie did end up in the water one night, she did so on her own.
Sportcoat genuinely cares about Deems and is happy he is alright. He also feels that he’s redeemed himself for shooting Deems earlier in the novel. The water by the docks reminds him of Hettie because it is the same place where she committed suicide. The idea of Hettie and Sportcoat spending a night together in the New York water is a romantic notion, but it now carries a sinister weight because of the nature of Hettie’s death.
Themes
Love, Hope, and Redemption Theme Icon
During Sportcoat’s third day of hiding at Rufus’s place, he falls asleep and dreams about Hettie. The version of Hettie he dreams of is young and beautiful woman with neat hair and a brown dress that she made herself. This is the first time since her death that Hettie has appeared to Sportcoat as a young woman. He compliments her dress and tells her that he remembers it. In response, Hettie looks at him sadly and asks him what is wrong. He tells her that nothing is wrong anymore except that he still hasn’t found the Christmas Club money. 
Despite everything else that has happened, it is the Christmas fund that is still on Sportcoat’s mind. The fact that he still cares so much about the fund demonstrates how important it is to him. Additionally, it is a reason for him to be able to continue to talk to Hettie and keep her close to him.
Themes
Community and Religion Theme Icon
Love, Hope, and Redemption Theme Icon
Hettie ignores Sportcoat’s comment about the money and instead tells stories about their childhood. She recalls a time where she came across Sportcoat and his father cutting down a tree with a crosscut saw. Sportcoat was only a young boy and eventually got tired of working. When he stopped, his father screamed at him. Hettie finds this moment sad—she cannot imagine a parent treating their child so cruelly.
Here, Hettie sheds light on Sportcoat’s childhood, which doesn’t sound like it was a happy one. Sportcoat’s mother died when he was a young boy, and his father appears to be hard and uncaring man. Such circumstances likely contributed to Sportcoat’s struggles with alcoholism. 
Themes
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon
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Hettie then turns the conversation to a different topic: Sportcoat’s abilities with plants. Hettie loves the smell of plants, and she always loved how good Sportcoat was with them when they lived in South Carolina. However, when she moved to New York, she didn’t get to be around flowers anymore. And then, when Sportcoat moved to New York, he turned into too much of a drunk and never kept flowers around the house. She tells Sportcoat that when he moved to New York, he became an entirely different person from the man she once knew.
Perhaps because of his troubled background, Sportcoat wasted much of his life—including his marriage to Hettie—drinking. He stopped cultivating his talents and instead found solace in alcohol. This led to a lonely life, and though Sportcoat was happy, he was never whole unless he was drinking. Sportcoat’s drinking likely contributed to Hettie’s unhappiness and, ultimately, to her suicide.
Themes
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
Love, Hope, and Redemption Theme Icon
Quotes
Sportcoat tells Hettie that he changed so much after arriving in New York because of all of his medical issues. He also says he was broken down because of how his stepmother treated him. Hettie tells him that she understands. She also says that Sportcoat’s background is what makes him like Deems so much; they came from similar broken upbringings.
Indeed, in many respects, Sportcoat and Deems are similar people. This explains why Sportcoat feels such an attachment to the young man, despite everything they’ve been through and all the ways that Deems has gone down a destructive path.
Themes
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon
Sportcoat reaches for a drink but cannot find one. Suddenly, Hettie gets angry and aggressive with Sportcoat. Sportcoat tells her that she is not his wife—his wife didn’t speak to him in such a way. The two of them begin arguing aggressively, and Hettie insults Sportcoat repeatedly. She tells him that he always blames other people for his problems. In response, Sportcoat tells her to go away. Suddenly, Hettie grows soft again and tells him, “I can’t […] I’d like to. That’s the thing. You got to let me.” Sportcoat asks her how he can do so, but Hettie says she doesn’t know how.
Hettie’s angry is directly related to Sportcoat’s desire for a drink. She hates who he is when he’s drinking. Or rather—since this version of Hettie is merely a figment of Sportcoat’s imagination—Sportcoat himself hates who he is when he’s drinking. This illusory Hettie is the part of himself that longs to be free of alcohol and the sorrows of his past.
Themes
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
Love, Hope, and Redemption Theme Icon
After his conversation with Hettie, Sportcoat decides to be sober. When Rufus returns and begins drinking, Sportcoat refuses to join him. Together, the two men talk about the origin of the Five Ends Church. During their conversation, Rufus mentions that Hettie helped out with the church’s construction, leading Sportcoat to believe that the missing Christmas money may be hidden in the church. Newly motivated, Sportcoat decides to finally pay Sister Paul a visit.
Perhaps because he drinks so much, Sportcoat never got around to visiting Sister Paul as Rufus suggested much earlier in the novel. Sister Paul is one of the founding members of the Five Ends Church and may have some insight into what happened to the Christmas fund. Additionally, Sportcoat finally decides to change his ways. It is a major shift for the character, though one presumes that transitioning away from a lifetime of alcoholism will not be easy for an old man like Sportcoat.
Themes
Substance Abuse Theme Icon