The Sellout

by

Paul Beatty

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The Sellout: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After Dickens was erased, the person who needed the narrator most was an elderly man named Hominy Jenkins. Back in the day, the narrator’s father had sent his son to take care of Hominy during the many times he recklessly tried to commit suicide. Hominy is the last surviving member of the Little Rascals, and is an actor whose career never took off like he hoped. When the narrator was young, he and his lifelong friend Marpessa would go to watch The Little Rascals at Hominy’s house. The narrator has been in love with Marpessa since these days. Although he didn’t realize it as a child, the narrator now knows that Hominy is both “angry” and “crazy.”
Much of the novel blends fact and fiction to create a surreal portrait of a world that is both familiar and bizarre. “The Little Rascals” is a real movie, based on the series called “Our Gang” which aired from the 1920s-1940s. Many people look back on these movies with sentimental nostalgia, but the story of Hominy shows that the reality is more disturbing. Although Hominy is a fictional character, there are many real black child actors whose roles in movies like this were racist caricatures.
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
Hominy’s entire acting career consists of shots of him getting covered in white substances (eggs, paint, pancake flour) or being electrocuted. In one such electrocution scene he says: “Yowza! I done discobered electbicidy,” which was “the longest line of his career.” After the other neighborhood kids stopped coming to the Little Rascals viewings, Marpessa stayed, even though she was 15. Eventually, however, she became more interested in boys and stopped coming. The first breast the narrator ever saw belonged to one of his father’s teaching assistants, who he found naked on his own bed after she had had sex with his father. The narrator muses that “Freudian hermeneutics doesn’t apply to Dickens.”
Throughout the novel, the narrator tries to create a normal life for himself within the surreal chaos of Dickens. For example, he has a lifelong, devoted crush on Marpessa, who is literally the “girl next door”—but does not see a woman naked until one of his father’s teaching assistants sits on his bed uninvited. It is telling that the narrator suggests that such an event should not be analyzed through “Freudian hermeneutics,” meaning Freud’s theory of how sexuality develops through the family before (usually) adjusting to something more “normal.”
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
One night, the narrator hears Marpessa say the name “Hominy” in his dreams. He wakes and runs to Hominy’s door, where he finds a note saying “I’z in de back,” which is his “memorabilia room.” The narrator finds Hominy naked and hanging from the neck. Hardly breathing, Hominy requests: “Cut my penis off and stuff it into my mouth.” He is holding a can of kerosene and a lighter, which the narrator confiscates. He then cuts down “the self-lynching drama queen.” While caring for Hominy’s wounds, the narrator reads his biography, which includes his roles as “Messenger Boy, Bell Boy, Bus Boy, Pin Boy, Pool Boy, House Boy, Box Boy, Copy Boy, and Delivery Boy.”
Having spent his life playing caricatures who are placed at the receiving end of racist jokes, Hominy has internalized racist ideology such that he now enacts it on himself. This is taken to a comic and disturbing extreme when he attempts to lynch himself. While Hominy’s actions are darkly funny, they also point to the profound and unsolvable difficulty of dealing with racial trauma and the legacy of anti-black violence. His way of dealing with these things may be ridiculous, but perhaps there is no easy or right way.
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
The narrator asks: “Why, Hominy?” Calling the narrator “massa,” Hominy replies that he wanted to “feel relevant.” The narrator tells Hominy that he’s not a slave and that he is not Hominy’s master, but Hominy replies that sometimes it’s better to just accept that he is “a slave who just also happens to be an actor.” The narrator laments that Hominy is now completely crazy, choosing to take literally the cliché: “I owe you my life, I’ll be your slave.” However, Hominy makes the narrator promise that he will never institutionalize him.
The moment when Hominy decides to voluntarily enslave himself to the narrator is one of the most extreme and comic examples of racial regress in the novel. Through its absurdity, it calls into question what obligations we have to people who voluntarily surrender their freedom, inflict pain on themselves, and/or assert their own inferiority compared to others.
Themes
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Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
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 Hominy says he wants to thank the narrator for saving his life, and then he asks that the narrator beat him. The narrator asks if he cannot do something else, and Hominy asks him to “bring back Dickens.” In a dissociative episode, the narrator beats Hominy, an act that traumatizes him for life. Afterward, Hominy advises the narrator that his efforts to reinvigorate Dickens have thus far been misguided. In a similar way to the problem of not being able to see the forest for the trees, the narrator “ain’t seeing the plantation for the niggers.”
The challenge of bringing back Dickens forms the central plot of the novel, with many other subplots woven in to this main story. In a way, the narrator’s mission is comparable to traditional narratives in which a hero returns home (such as the Odyssey). This quest takes on a strange new form in The Sellout, however, as in order to “find” home, the narrator must also resurrect it.
Themes
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon