The Sellout

by

Paul Beatty

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The Sellout: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Two weeks later, the “New-ish Republic” magazine has a cover story called “The New Jim Crow,” which asks if “Public Education [has] Clipped the Wings of the White Child?” The narrator’s father taught the narrator that every time a magazine features a rhetorical question on its cover, the answer is always “no.” A week after the issue is released, five white children attempt to reintegrate Chaff Middle School, but Charisma stops them. Chaff has become the fourth-highest-ranked public school in the county, while white parents begin to withdraw their children from their own schools and insist on a return to the practice of bussing to force reintegration.
The fact that white parents are now demanding their children be admitted to Chaff Middle School highlights how segregation and personal advantage are intertwined. When white people originally opposed integration during the Civil Rights era, it wasn’t just racial mixing they were rejecting—it was the idea that their children would no longer receive better opportunities than others.
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
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The white children who go to Chaff are known as “the Dickens Five.” Charisma stands with her arms across the entrance to the school, saying: “No Anglos allowed.” Hominy is at Chaff that day, having been invited to “tutor Jim Crow.” Foy is also there, on the side of the white children. He claims to have evidence that one of the children has ancestors from the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. The Dickens Five then turn around and spot the image of the Wheaton Academy, and immediately gravitate toward it. Foy warns them that it is “a graven image” and nothing more than “a racist joke,” but the students, mesmerized, reply that it “looks so real.”
The “Dickens Five” is a reference to the “Little Rock Nine,” the nine black students enrolled at a formerly all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, following the ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education. The fact that Foy sides with the Dickens Five shows that his view of racial politics is flimsy and misguided. He acts as though integration is an inherent good, even when this means siding with white students whose behavior is entirely self-interested.
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
The narrator’s father always taught him to think about what happened after a given event. He would remind the narrator that after the school integration crisis that took place in Little Rock, Arkansas, the governor of Arkansas chose to shut down every high school in the city rather than integrate them—though this part is rarely taught. Charisma asks: “When does shit ever end?” and the narrator replies: “It doesn’t.” Foy and his supporters begin to sing “We Shall Overcome.” Like most people, they only know the first verse, so Foy uses cue cards for the lyrics of the rest. Foy then shoots a gun at his own Mercedes Benz. He then aims his gun at the narrator.
It is now clear that the narrator’s suspicion of the idea of linear progress originates with his father. The narrator’s father was correct in asserting that nothing ever “ends” on a simple note of lasting progress. Instead, as the narrator indicates, “shit” never ends.
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Foy then points the gun at himself, and with his free hand pours white paint over his body. The narrator sees that Foy is in a moment of extreme crisis, and cautiously tells him to ask himself two questions: “Who am I? and How may I become myself?” The narrator expects a tirade in return. Instead, Foy shoots him, and the narrator finds himself lying on the ground, clutching his own blood. Hominy attacks Foy, screaming: “Give me back my Little Rascals movies, motherfucker!” He then cradles the narrator, crying.
At first it seems as if the narrator is doomed to repeat his father’s interaction with Foy, wherein the narrator would choose to be the bigger person and help Foy despite Foy’s ingratitude. However, Foy appears to have reached some kind of breaking point; where he could tolerate the narrator’s father, Foy hates the narrator himself so much that he shoots him.
Themes
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The paramedics arrive, and when they ask the narrator about his next of kin, he replies that he has a girlfriend but that she’s married. Hominy then announces that “I is something closer than family.” The sheriff’s deputy remarks that Hominy claims to be the narrator’s slave, and asks Hominy about his welts from being whipped. The deputy asks if the narrator has a good lawyer, and the narrator points him to an advertisement for Hampton Fiske.
This is the moment when the narrator first gets into trouble with the law for slaveholding. Hominy’s comment about being “closer than family” recalls the perverse arguments some slaveholders gave about the supposedly loving bond between themselves and their slaves.
Themes
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Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
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The narrator tells Hampton that his farming schedule means he cannot afford to do jail time. In court, Hampton argues that as a farmer, the narrator is “an indispensable member of a minority community.” The prosecution objects that the narrator is actually an “evil genius” guilty of “unabashed slaveholding,” and that he should really be charged with “crimes against humanity.” Hampton offers Judge Nguyen a nectarine from the narrator’s farm. The judge gives a long speech; he concludes that the court will convene tomorrow but that regardless of the verdict, the case is certain to go to the Supreme Court. He takes a bite of the nectarine and sets bail at “a cantaloupe and two kumquats.”
Once again, the narrator is saved by his fruit. Like drugs, the fruit the narrator grows is so enticing and addictive that people behave in strange ways in hopes of securing more. On the other hand, as Hampton’s argument demonstrates, the narrator’s ability to grow such delicious fruit also symbolizes his contributions to the community.
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon