The Sellout

by

Paul Beatty

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The Sellout: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Five years after the narrator’s father’s death, Dickens is “quietly removed” from the map of California. The surrounding cities conspire to erase Dickens in order to keep their own, higher property prices up. Most citizens of Dickens are relieved not to be from anywhere, because it spares them the shame of admitting they’re from Dickens. Rumors state that the country removed Dickens’ charter due to the political corruption in the city. The police and fire stations are shut down, as is the school board.
The sudden disappearance of Dickens takes literally the idea that governmental authorities would rather ignore or even erase black communities than attempt to support and assist them. The stigma against Dickens is so strong that residents would rather be from nowhere than from the city, showing that a sense of “home” is not something everyone necessarily wants, when that home is explicitly seen as negative.
Themes
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Following the death of the narrator’s father, the neighborhood is left searching for the next “Nigger Whisperer.” The narrator assumes the role because he has nothing else to do. However, he does not possess his father’s same talent for it. Sometimes he tries to start with a joke, but this doesn’t always work. Everyone in the neighborhood thinks that the narrator majored in psychology at college. However, he actually majored in agricultural studies, hoping to turn the farm into an ostrich hatchery and sell the birds to rappers. It soon became clear that this plan wasn’t viable, so instead he focused on the two crops of “most cultural relevance”: watermelon and weed.
Starting with his own father, the narrator has always been surrounded by people who place particular expectations on him—expectations that he either can’t or doesn’t want to meet. Now that his father is dead, the narrator is being compelled to assume his place, but the two men have little in common. Whereas the narrator’s father had a robust and enthusiastic knowledge of human psychology, the narrator is more drawn to working with animals than people.
Themes
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
The narrator sells watermelons in different shapes, even making a special edition during Easter with “Jesus Saves” written on the lines of the rind. His watermelons are so good that there are rumors some people have fainted upon tasting them. However, watermelons don’t grow year-round, so the narrator’s “mainstay” crop is marijuana. He brings his weed to house parties and likes to think that Gregor Mendel, George Washington Carver, and his father would be proud.
Here we learn of another strange skill the narrator possesses alongside his knowledge of Latin: the ability to grow insanely delicious fruit. The reaction of the community to his watermelons exaggerates the racist stereotype about black people’s love of watermelons to a point of surreal absurdity.
Themes
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon