The Sellout

by

Paul Beatty

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Sellout can help.

The Sellout: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator calls the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals “the closest approximation [Dickens] had to a representative government.” Since the narrator’s father’s death, the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals have essentially turned into a Foy Cheshire fan club. Foy complains that he recently tried to read Huckleberry Finn to his grandchildren, but had to stop because the book featured so many uses of the n-word. He decided to rewrite the novel, replacing the n-word with “warrior” and the word “slave” with “dark-skinned volunteer.” His words attract support from the crowd.
Foy’s relationship to race, racism, and American history is the polar opposite of Hominy’s. While Hominy embraces the ugly reality of racial oppression to the point that he literally enslaves himself, Foy goes to the other extreme by trying to deny that this history ever took place. He also represents a kind of extreme of “political correctness”—avoiding the language of offense without actually doing anything about the lived injustices that are the source of such offense.
Themes
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
The narrator doesn’t like attending these meetings. After his father’s death there was a brief possibility that the narrator would become the next “lead thinker,” but the narrator declined and the role went to Foy instead. Foy calls the narrator “The Sellout,” never using his real name. At today’s meeting, Foy proposes that the group vote to put his revised version of Huckleberry Finn on middle-school syllabi. For the first time in ten years, the narrator speaks during a meeting, asking which term—“black folk” or “black folks”—is the correct one.
We never learn the narrator’s first name, though other identifiers such as his last name (Mee) and nicknames are provided. Foy’s dismissive labeling of the narrator as “The Sellout” suggests that he believes the narrator is betraying his father’s legacy. Yet note that we never learn the narrator’s father’s first name either. Perhaps the narrator in fact inherited his lack of identity from his father.
Themes
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
The narrator believes that the members of the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals are “wereniggers,” a term he uses to describe people who slip from corporate elegance to inner city “howling” at night. Foy chastises the narrator for not taking Mark Twain’s use of the n-word seriously, to which the narrator replies that he doesn’t think Twain used the word enough. He thinks that adults should explain the existence of the n-word to black children, as they are likely to be called it at some point in their lives. He curses the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals for wanting to “disinvent” stereotypes rather than acknowledge their existence.
The narrator often presents himself as unintelligent and unassuming—recall when he told the officer he was “nobody special.” On the other hand, in moments like this it is evident that he is more clear-sighted than most of the other characters in the novel. The group of men at Dum Dum Donuts may style themselves as “intellectuals,” but the narrator’s reasoning in this passage is obviously superior to theirs.
Themes
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The narrator says that he would rather be called “nigger” than a word ending in “-ess” like “Negress” or “giantess.” Someone murmurs “problematic,” which the narrator thinks is the word black intellectuals use when they feel insecure. Foy tells the other members to respect “this sellout,” who is the son of the group’s founder. When making presentations, the Dum Dums use software Foy invented call EmpowerPoint. Yet the narrator decides to use an old projector instead to make his presentation. He draws a diagram of a square, placing binary opposites such as “White Americans / Dickens” and “The Best of Times / the Worst of Times” on the inside and outside of the square.
As this passage shows, much of the humor in the novel comes from playing around with names and titles. On one level this is simple wordplay—connecting the town of Dickens to the writer Charles Dickens, and the famous first lines of his novel A Tale of Two Cities—but on another it is a way of exploring the power and meaning of language. The narrator’s thoughts about finding words that end in “-ess” more insulting than the n-word, for example, raises questions about why particular words related to particular targeted groups are considered more offensive than others.
Themes
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
Get the entire The Sellout LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Sellout PDF
The narrator announces that he is “bringing back the city of Dickens,” and everyone laughs. Foy turns over a nearby portrait of the narrator’s father and asks the narrator why he hopes to bring Dickens back. The narrator doesn’t answer, instead choosing to “space out” for the rest of the meeting. After it’s over, the “notorious gangbanger” and Dum Dum member King Cuz, formerly known as Curtis Baxter, approaches the narrator. He says he wants to talk, and drags the narrator outside.
Foy and the other Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals seem to believe that the narrator is dishonoring his father by seeking to bring back Dickens. Yet considering the amount of time the narrator’s father devoted to the community, it seems like that he would want his son to bring it back. Again this shows Foy’s difference to the narrator and his father—Foy wants to avoid or erase anything negative associated with blackness in America.
Themes
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
King Cuz admits that he likes the narrator’s plan to bring back Dickens. He says he started coming to Dum Dum meetings because he liked the narrator’s father. He leaves, advising the narrator to think about his plan for black Chinese restaurants and to “get some pussy” because he is too uptight. Foy enters and tells the narrator to ignore Cuz, because “pussy is overrated.” Foy hosts a series of television programs with names like Blacktotum and Just the Blacks, Ma’am. Foy warns the narrator: “I know what you up to.” He warns the narrator that he will not let him mess with the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals. The narrator replies with Cuz’s catchphrase: “No doubt, nigger.”
King Cuz’s comments about the narrator needing to “get some pussy” suggests that the narrator is out of place in a hypermasculine, sexualized world. While Foy may claim that “pussy is overrated,” recall that he originally blew his fortune on drugs and women, suggesting he does not actually believe his own advice. The narrator, meanwhile, has thus far expressed little interest in sex, or in any woman except Marpessa.
Themes
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon