The Sellout

by

Paul Beatty

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The Sellout: Chapter 24 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrative returns to the Supreme Court scene. The narrator expected the air-conditioning in the Supreme Court to be terrible, because in famous courtroom movies everyone is always sweating. He shouts, “You can’t handle the weed!” at the courtroom illustrator, Fred Manne, and then announces: “I’m so fucking high right now…” The picture Fred has drawn of the narrator is ugly, and the narrator asks if he can change it. After a break, the narrator returns to court to find a small white boy who has shown up to cheer him on. The narrator reflects on whether or not it’s really true that race is “hard to talk about.”
The narrator’s experience at the Supreme Court is one of the most surreal parts of a remarkably surreal book. This scene is a jumbled mess of stereotypes and reversed stereotypes, in which both the narrator and the reader’s expectations for what the court should be like are completely unraveled.
Themes
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Hampton gives a speech that concludes with the claim that the central question under consideration is “what do we mean by ‘black?’” He delves into different theories of blackness, describing the different “stages” of being black. The narrator rolls himself another blunt and sneaks out quietly. He sits on the steps of the Supreme Court, fashioning a pipe out of a Pepsi can. He thinks there should be a Stage IV of black identity called “Unmitigated Blackness.”
We might expect Hampton’s speech to be another climactic moment, perhaps similar to the courtroom speech Atticus Finch gives at the end of To Kill a Mockingbird. However, the narrator leaves instead, and thus once again the sense of climax evaporates. In its place we are left with the quiet, contemplative scene of the narrator on the steps.
Themes
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Unmitigated Blackness could be taken as “unwillingness to succeed,” which could also be interpreted as “not giving a fuck.” It involves embracing the meaninglessness of life and concluding that “sometimes it’s the nihilism that makes life worth living.” The narrator sits smoking weed under the “Equal Justice Under the Law” sign and stares at the stars. He thinks of the Washington Monument as “a giant middle finger to the world.”
The extent to which The Sellout embraces total nihilism (the belief that life is totally meaningless) is ambiguous. There are certainly points throughout the novel wherein a nihilistic approach is presented as more appealing or logical (particularly in comparison to moralizing self-righteousness). Yet the absurdity of the book is also arguably not full-fledged nihilism, but instead pointing towards some kind of distant ideal.
Themes
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
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