Deacon King Kong

by

James McBride

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Deacon King Kong: Chapter 23: Last Octobers Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After three days in the hospital, Deems wakes up with a painful buzzing noise in his ear. He is still in immense pain and cannot put any weight on his left shoulder. While in the hospital, Deems doesn’t get many visitors. Only the police, Sister Gee, and a few other sisters from the Five Ends come to see him. However, Deems doesn’t say anything to any of his visitors. Instead, he continues to think about what happened to him. He knows now for sure that he was betrayed, probably by Lightbulb. 
After being shot twice in only a matter of weeks, Deems has a lot of reflecting to do. Notably, the people who visit him in the hospital are not his fellow drug dealers. Instead, they are members of the church—people who actually care about his wellbeing. With no one else around him, Deems must reevaluate his life on his own.
Themes
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
Race and Power Theme Icon
Community and Religion Theme Icon
However, today Deems wakes up to a new face: Sportcoat. To Deem’s surprise, Sportcoat isn’t wearing his usual coat, which gave him his moniker. Instead, he’s wearing the outfit of a Housing Authority worker and clutching a “hideous” homemade doll that’s roughly the size of a pillow. Startled, Deems asks Sportcoat about the doll. Sportcoat tells Deems that the doll is for him; he got it from a Dominican man who lives in his building. It is said to bring good luck and the Dominican man made it specifically for Deems.
After everything, Sportcoat still hasn’t given up on Deems. Like the other members of the church, he wants what is best for the young man, and so he provides him with support the only way he knows how. Superstition is common in the Cause, and the doll pillow is an example of this.
Themes
Community and Religion Theme Icon
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon
Love, Hope, and Redemption Theme Icon
Sportcoat pulls out another gift for Deems: a small exercise ball that Sportcoat says will improve the strength of Deems’s pitching hand. Sportcoat’s gifts make Deems angry, and he vulgarly asks why Sportcoat is here. Sportcoat is put off by Deems’s language, and he tells Deems that he’s come a long way to see him. Annoyed, Deems tells him to leave and Sportcoat refuses. He promises not to ask Deems about any of his business. Instead, Sportcoat says, he’s come to handle some business of his own.
Still, Sportcoat wants Deems to play baseball; he sees it as a viable alternative to Deems’s current path. However, baseball only frustrates Deems; Deems seeks immediate remedies to his problems, and that is not what baseball can provide. Because of his frustration, he unfairly lashes out at Sportcoat.
Themes
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Annoyed, Deems starts to mock Sportcoat and calls him “Deacon King Kong.” Sportcoat tells Deems that he cannot hurt him by calling him names. He’s much more concerned about his two friends who are currently in the hospital. In fact, he just got back from talking to Hot Sausage. Together, the two of them talked about Deems’s future in baseball. When Sportcoat relates this conversation to Deems, it only makes Deems angrier. He begins cursing at Sportcoat again.
Given Deems’s role in enabling addiction in the Cause community, his mocking of Sportcoat seems especially cruel. The old deacon just wants what is best for Deems, even if he doesn’t always know the best way to express it.
Themes
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Still, Sportcoat doesn’t understand where Deems’s hostility is coming from. He asks Deems why he is so angry, and Deems reminds him that before Haroldeen shot him, Sportcoat shot him as well. Sportcoat responds by saying that he doesn’t even remember the incident. This only makes Deems angrier, and he tells the old deacon that he should have killed him. This makes Sportcoat upset. He still doesn’t understand why Deems hates him so deeply.
Here, Deems’s anger appears more reasonable. Whether he remembers it or not, Sportcoat did shoot Deems over seemingly nothing. To Deems, this is a major betrayal, as Sportcoat is one of the few people Deems has always liked and trusted to have his best interest at heart.
Themes
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Annoyed with Sportcoat, Deems continues to curse his name. Sportcoat tells Deems he’ll leave in a minute—he just has one more thing he wants to do first. Sportcoat moves to the door and shuts it. Then, he moves toward Deems as though he is about to whisper something to him. Deems tells him to get away, and then Sportcoat grabs the doll pillow and begins to smother Deems with it. Deems struggles for breath, but his air supply is completely cut off, making it impossible for him to fight Sportcoat.
Here, Sportcoat moves to finish the job he started at the beginning of the novel. Because Deems won’t listen to reason or treat Sportcoat with respect, Sportcoat decides to smother him. Ironically, he uses the pillow that was meant to bring Deems good luck.
Themes
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Quotes
As Sportcoat smothers Deems, he tells him that his father used to do something similar to him as a child, supposedly because it would make him strong. In reality, Sportcoat thinks his father held the pillow over his head because he wanted to wield his power over his child. It reminds Sportcoat of how white men act, although he thinks that black men might act the same way if they held similar positions in society. As Sportcoat says all this to Deems, Deems stops fighting—he’s almost lost consciousness entirely. Noticing this, Sportcoat takes the pillow off Deems’s head and allows him to breath.
Here, Sportcoat reveals another sordid detail of his traumatic past. Evidently, his father frequently tortured him. Here, Sportcoat does the same thing to Deems, from a similar position of power. It is the only option he feels he has left.
Themes
Race and Power Theme Icon
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon
The last thing Sportcoat tells Deems is that he might as well die as a young and healthy man rather than as an old man who’s ruined his life. Sportcoat sees a lot of himself in Deems and realizes that the reason he shot him in the first place is because the boy reminded him of a young version of himself. Ultimately, Sportcoat lets Deems live, but he threatens to kill him if he ever sees him again.
Here, Sportcoat finally takes responsibility for his actions, explaining that alcoholism and a long, hard life in the Cause have worn him down. And Deems and his fellow drug dealers (and the drug users they enable) are making life in the Cause even worse. As such, Sportcoat thinks it might be better just to kill Deems now and get things over with. Because Sportcoat acts so radically, he actually does cause Deems to change his mind about the current trajectory of his life, though it remains unclear whether Deems will act on his changed perspective. 
Themes
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
Race and Power Theme Icon
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon