Traditional white Southern culture was simultaneously invested in propriety and manners and in a racist and immoral understanding of the value of human life. Julian’s Mother’s gift of the penny to Carver, a black child she meets on the bus, encapsulates the incongruity of these values. Julian’s Mother hopes to act in a way that is befitting of high status—she has the habit of giving cute children coins because it is a noble obligation of the privileged. The fact that Julian’s mother doesn’t care whether she gives Carter a penny or a nickel suggests that she only cares about the symbolic act of giving. And, in considering any gift she could give to Carver to be sincerely kind, manners blind her from intuiting how Carver’s Mother might perceive her gesture. Julian’s Mother’s blindness to the possible reception of such a meager gift becomes a powerful representation of the patronizing attitude of Southern whites towards blacks. When the penny causes Carver’s Mother to strike Julian’s Mother, it suggests that the new social order will no longer accept such an attitude. Old manners won’t continue to cover up racism.
The Penny Quotes in Everything That Rises Must Converge
Then all at once she seemed to explode like a piece of machinery that had been given one ounce of pressure too much. Julian saw the black fist swing out with the red pocketbook. He shut his eyes and cringed as he heard the woman shout, “He don’t take nobody’s pennies!”