The Sellout

by

Paul Beatty

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The narrator is the main character of the book. We never learn his first name, although we know that his last name is Mee, that his childhood nickname was “Bonbon,” and that Foy Cheshire calls him “The Sellout.” The narrator was born and raised in Dickens by a single father, a psychologist who performed strange and cruel experiments on his son. The narrator’s mother was a woman named Laurel Lescook. When the narrator’s father is killed by the police, the narrator struggles to live up to his legacy. His decision to rescue Hominy from hanging himself puts him in the reluctant position of being Hominy’s slaveholder, a role he eventually comes to accept, even if he never embraces it, because it makes Hominy happy. The narrator is tried for slaveholding at the Supreme Court in a case called Me v. the United States of America; at the end of the novel, he is acquitted and returns to a “Welcome Home” party in Dickens that resembles one of the happy memories of his childhood. The narrator is often presented as meek, unassuming, and plagued by uncertainty. He asserts that he is “no one special” and is less egotistical than several of the characters, such as his father and Foy. However, the narrator comes into his own through his mission to bring back Dickens. His efforts to re-segregate the city and put it back on the map end up allowing him to win back his childhood sweetheart, Marpessa Dawson. He also has a strange ability to grow almost magically-delicious fruit, and his satsumas play a crucial role in winning over Marpessa as well. At the end of the novel, the narrator remains rather lost and mystified by the bizarre world around him, but is nonetheless happy to have brought back Dickens and been reunited with Marpessa.

The Narrator Quotes in The Sellout

The The Sellout quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator or refer to The Narrator . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Picador edition of The Sellout published in 2015.
Prologue Quotes

But I don’t feel responsible anymore. I understand now that the only time black people don't feel guilty is when we've actually done something wrong, because that relieves us of the cognitive dissonance of being black and innocent, and in a way the prospect of going to jail becomes a relief. In the way that cooning is a relief, voting Republican is a relief, marrying white is a relief—albeit a temporary one.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

He's demanding to know how it is that in this day and age a black man can violate the hallowed principles of the Thirteenth Amendment by owning a slave. How could I willfully ignore the Fourteenth Amendment and argue that sometimes segregation brings people together. Like all people who believe in the system, he wants answers. He wants to believe that Shakespeare wrote all those books, that Lincoln fought the Civil War to free the slaves and the United States fought World War II to rescue the Jews and keep the world safe for democracy, that Jesus and the double feature are coming back. But I'm no Panglossian American. And when I did what I did, I wasn't thinking about inalienable rights, the proud history of our people. I did what worked, and since when did a little slavery and segregation ever hurt anybody, and if so, so fucking be it.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Black Justice
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

In a way most Dickensians were relieved to not be from anywhere. It saved them the embarrassment of having to answer the small-talk "Where are you from?" question with "Dickens," then watching the person apologetically back away from you.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Dickens
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

"If you ask me, Mark Twain didn't use the word 'nigger' enough," I mumbled. With my mouth filled with at least four of America's favorite cookies, I don't think anyone understood me. I wanted to say more. Like, why blame Mark Twain because you don't have the patience and courage to explain to your children that the "n-word" exists and that during the course of their sheltered little lives they may one day be called a "nigger" or, even worse, deign to call somebody else a "nigger." No one will ever refer to them as "little black euphemisms," so welcome to the American lexicon—Nigger!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Those pompous Dum Dum niggers wanted to ban the word, disinvent the watermelon, snorting in the morning, washing your dick in the sink, and the eternal shame of having pubic hair the color and texture of unground pepper. That's the difference between most oppressed peoples of the world and American blacks. They vow never to forget, and we want everything expunged from our record, sealed and filed away for eternity. We want someone like Foy Cheshire to present our case to the world with a set of instructions that the jury will disregard centuries of ridicule and stereotype and pretend the woebegone niggers in front of you are starting from scratch.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Foy Cheshire
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

"That's gay," countered her Latino nemesis, who was juggling the gonads with one hand.

"Juggling is gay!"

"Calling people who call you 'gay' just because you called them' gay' is gay!"

"Okay, that's enough." Charisma scolded. "My God, is there anything you kids don't think is gay?"

The fat boy thought for a long moment. "You know what's not gay...being gay."

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Charisma Molina (speaker), Sheila Clark (speaker)
Page Number: 166-167
Explanation and Analysis:

“Segregate the school.” As soon as I said it, I realized that segregation would be the key to bringing Dickens back. The communal feeling of the bus would spread to the school and then permeate the rest of the city. Apartheid united black South Africa, why couldn't it do the same for Dickens?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Dickens, Marpessa’s Bus
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

During Black History Month, my father used to watch the nightly television footage of the Freedom buses burning, the dogs snarling and snapping, and say to me, "You can't force integration, boy. The people who want to integrate will integrate." I've never figured out to what extent, if at all, I agree or disagree with him, but it's an observation that's stayed with me. Made me realize that for many people integration is a finite concept. Here, in America, "integration" can be a cover-up. "I'm not racist. My prom date, second cousin, my president is black (or whatever)."

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Narrator’s Father
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

"You're supposed to wolf whistle! Like this…” Recklessly eyeballing her the whole way, he pursed his lips and let go a wolf whistle so lecherous and libidinous it curled both the white woman's pretty painted toes and the dainty red ribbon in her blond hair. Now it was her turn. And my father stood there, lustful and black, as she just as defiantly not only recklessly eyeballed him back but recklessly rubbed his dick through his pants.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Narrator’s Father (speaker), Rebecca
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

I'm frigid. Not in the sense that I don't have any sexual desire, but in the obnoxious way men in the free-love seventies projected their own sexual inadequacies onto women by referring to them as "frigid" and "dead fish." I'm the deadest of fish. I fuck like an overturned guppy. A plate of day-old sashimi has more "motion of the ocean" than I do. So on the day of the shooting and drive-by orange-ing, when Marpessa stuck a tongue suspiciously tangy with satsuma tartness into my mouth and ground her pudenda into my

pelvic bone, I lay there on my bed—motionless.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Marpessa Delissa Dawson
Related Symbols: Satsumas
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

I'm not so selfish as to believe that my relative happiness, including, but not limited to, twenty-four-hour access to chili burgers, Blu-ray, and Aeron office chairs is worth generations of suffering. I seriously doubt that some slave ship ancestor, in those idle moments between being raped and beaten, was standing knee-deep in their own feces rationalizing that, in the end, the generations of murder, unbearable pain and suffering, mental anguish, and rampant disease will all be worth it because someday my great-great-great-great-grandson will have Wi-Fi, no matter how slow and intermittent the signal is.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 22 Quotes

"This is me at the Compton Cookout . . . I'm the third 'ghetto chick' from the right." I stole a glance at the snapshot. The women and their dates blackened and Afro-wigged, toting forties and basketballs, smoking blunts. Their mouths filled with gold teeth and chicken drumsticks. It wasn't so much the racist ridicule as the lack of imagination that I found insulting. Where were the zip coons? The hep cats? The mammies? The bucks? The janitors? The dual threat quarterbacks? The weekend weather forecasters? The front desk receptionists that greet you at every single movie studio and talent agency in the city? Mr. Witherspoon will be down in a minute. Can I get you a water? That's the problem with this generation; they don't know their history.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Topsy / Butterfly Davis (speaker)
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24 Quotes

Unmitigated Blackness is essays passing for fiction. It's the realization that there are no absolutes, except when there are. It's the acceptance of contradiction not being a sin and a crime but a human frailty like split ends and libertarianism. Unmitigated Blackness is coming to the realization that as fucked up and meaningless as it all is, sometimes it's the nihilism that makes life worth living.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26 Quotes

That's what I liked about the man, although I didn’t agree with him when he said, "Get out. This is our thing." I respected that he didn’t give a fuck. But I wish I hadn't been so scared, that I had had the nerve to stand in protest. Not to castigate him for what he did or to stick up for the aggrieved white people. After all, they could've stood up for themselves, called in the authorities or their God, and smote everybody in the place, but I wish I'd stood up to the man and asked him a question: "So what exactly is our thing?”

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 287-289
Explanation and Analysis:
Closure Quotes

“Why are you waving the flag?” I asked him. “Why now? I’ve never seen you wave it before.” He said that he felt like the country, the United States of America, had finally paid off its debts. “And what about the Native Americans? What about the Chinese, the Japanese, the Mexicans, the poor, the forests, the water, the air, the fucking California condor? When do they collect?” I asked him.

He just shook his head at me. Said something to the effect that my father would be ashamed of me and that I'd never understand. And he's right. I never will.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Foy Cheshire (speaker), The Narrator’s Father
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Sellout LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Sellout PDF

The Narrator Character Timeline in The Sellout

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator appears in The Sellout. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
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The narrator says that it although it may be hard to believe because he is a black... (full context)
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The narrator also visits the Pentagon and the national Mall, where he sees a white boy lying... (full context)
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Back in the Supreme Court, an officer tries to get the narrator to sit up straight in his chair, but instead he comes crashing to the floor.... (full context)
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The narrator ’s case is “the latest in the long line of landmark race-related cases,” including Dred... (full context)
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When the narrator was younger, he believed that the problems of the black American community would be solved... (full context)
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At first the narrator was pleased with this last attempt, but then remembered that the black community objects to... (full context)
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The narrator ’s lawyer, Hampton Fiske, takes his pipe from his hands and sprays some air freshener... (full context)
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Back in DC, a black woman in the front row of the Court berates the narrator while she discusses the history of black people in America. Then she slaps him in... (full context)
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The Supreme Court justices enter, and Hampton drags the narrator to his feet. The black Justice is “absentmindedly” wearing a $50,000 Rolex watch. The narrator... (full context)
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...in the system” and therefore is horrified. The Justice wants to believe in progress, but the narrator himself rejects this, thinking: “Since when did a little slavery and segregation hurt anybody.” The... (full context)
Chapter 1
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The narrator ’s father was a social scientist, the inventor and “sole practitioner” of what he called... (full context)
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When the narrator was a baby, his father placed objects representing whiteness into his cot while firing a... (full context)
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During another experiment, the narrator ’s father donned a Ronald Reagan mask, posing as a “white authority figure.” He then... (full context)
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When the narrator was twelve, his father replicated a famous study of racial consciousness in black children using... (full context)
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The narrator picked the white doll world because the white dolls had better accessories. Crushed, the narrator’s... (full context)
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The narrator claims that when he was six, he witnessed the birth of gangster rap. The rapper... (full context)
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The narrator assumed that he would stay in Dickens and live an average life. He hoped to... (full context)
Chapter 3
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The narrator lists the laws of “ghetto physics.” Halfway through his junior year of college, he rides... (full context)
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The narrator knows he is supposed to cry, but he doesn’t. He cannot help thinking that his... (full context)
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After the police draw the chalk outline and take the evidence photos, the narrator takes his father’s body into Dum Dum Donuts and requests his father’s usual order. The... (full context)
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The narrator ’s father quickly became friends with Foy, and the two cofounded the Dum Dum Donut... (full context)
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Although the narrator ’s father was an atheist, Foy nevertheless prays over his dead body, embracing it. Yet... (full context)
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While he was alive, the narrator ’s father had a habit of sleeping with his teenage students. The narrator’s mother was... (full context)
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Using the $2 million settlement he is awarded after his father’s death, the narrator buys the farm that his father had always dreamed of purchasing. The farm comes with... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Five years after the narrator ’s father’s death, Dickens is “quietly removed” from the map of California. The surrounding cities... (full context)
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Following the death of the narrator ’s father, the neighborhood is left searching for the next “Nigger Whisperer.” The narrator assumes... (full context)
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The narrator sells watermelons in different shapes, even making a special edition during Easter with “Jesus Saves”... (full context)
Chapter 5
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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One night, the narrator hears Marpessa say the name “Hominy” in his dreams. He wakes and runs to Hominy’s... (full context)
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The narrator asks: “Why, Hominy?” Calling the narrator “massa,” Hominy replies that he wanted to “feel relevant.”... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 6
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The narrator finds slaveholding a tricky business. Hominy has no skills other than subservience, and spends his... (full context)
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The narrator regularly takes Hominy to a BDSM club, where he pays for Hominy to be whipped... (full context)
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During the drive, the narrator realizes that the signs indicating where to turn off for Dickens have been removed. He... (full context)
Chapter 7
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The narrator calls the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals “the closest approximation [Dickens] had to a representative government.”... (full context)
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The narrator doesn’t like attending these meetings. After his father’s death there was a brief possibility that... (full context)
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The narrator believes that the members of the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals are “wereniggers,” a term he... (full context)
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The narrator says that he would rather be called “nigger” than a word ending in “-ess” like... (full context)
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The narrator announces that he is “bringing back the city of Dickens,” and everyone laughs. Foy turns... (full context)
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King Cuz admits that he likes the narrator ’s plan to bring back Dickens. He says he started coming to Dum Dum meetings... (full context)
Chapter 8
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The narrator buys a line-marking machine and white spray paint, and paints a border around Dickens. At... (full context)
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A police officer called Officer Mendez teasingly makes a wanted poster for the narrator . The poster begins: “MISSING: HOMETOWN. Have you seen my city? Description: Mostly Black and... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...a nearby oil refinery, descends on Dickens. Two weeks after the border is finished, both the narrator and Hominy are woken up at 4 am by the Stank. Hominy offers the narrator... (full context)
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The narrator catches the 5:43 am #125 westbound bus, driven by Marpessa. Years ago, Marpessa marred a... (full context)
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...the RTD, which is supposed to stand for Rapid Transit District, but to people like the narrator it stands for “Rough Tough and Dangerous.” When the narrator was seven, he wrote a... (full context)
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A passenger who keeps pressing the stop button calls Marpessa a “fat fucking cow,” which the narrator knows she will not tolerate. However, he does not see what happens because he falls... (full context)
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Early the next morning, the narrator had his first kiss in the back of a pick-up truck his father was driving.... (full context)
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The narrator is thrilled that Marpessa has called him by his childhood nickname. She apologizes for treating... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Later Hominy and the narrator are riding the bus, and Hominy feels like he cannot wait to give up his... (full context)
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The narrator recently realized that Hominy and Rodney King have the same birthday, April 2. He wonders... (full context)
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Laura Jane kisses Marpessa’s forehead, then returns to Hominy. The narrator stops Marpessa from hitting Laura Jane, which leads Marpessa to accuse the narrator of being... (full context)
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Marpessa sees the narrator staring lustfully at Laura Jane’s naked body and curses him for “fiending after some white... (full context)
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The narrator does not believe that Marpessa ever loved him, but then she tells him she fell... (full context)
City Lites: An Interlude
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The narrator has always been fascinated by sister cities. Cities sometimes become sisters as a sign of... (full context)
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Susan tells the narrator that Dickens’ three most compatible cities are Juárez, Chernobyl, and Kinshasa. The narrator is confused... (full context)
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...is so disappointed that he attempts to sell himself, standing on an auction block in the narrator ’s driveway for a week. The narrator attempts to get him to move by warning... (full context)
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In the end the narrator decides to match Dickens with three cities that also “disappeared under dubious circumstances.” The first... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Charisma Molina whispers: “Too many Mexicans,” a phrase that the narrator suggests has become a kind of mantra in America. The claim that there are too... (full context)
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...to scare the children away from the represented careers than encourage them. Charisma has asked the narrator to give a more exciting presentation than the previous year, when he was so boring... (full context)
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...whose family were the first Mexicans to move into the Dickens farms. As a child, the narrator always thought Nestor was cool, but over time they drifted apart, “as black and Latin... (full context)
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The narrator tells the children that he is going to demonstrate castration for them. He explains the... (full context)
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Charisma explains that she wants the school to become like Marpessa’s bus. When the narrator was a child, everyone in Dickens was black. Marpessa didn’t realize her best friend was... (full context)
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...the students make an enormous bonfire of books and set fire to them. Charisma tells the narrator that the books were given to the school by Foy Cheshire under an initiative called... (full context)
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It starts raining heavily, and everyone scrambles to leave. The narrator tells Charisma that she should segregate the school, and as soon as he does so... (full context)
Chapter 12
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It rains all summer, and the narrator frets over his crops and his plans for segregation. Hominy loves the idea of re-segregating... (full context)
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When the narrator was a child, his father briefly considered sending him to a “fancy prep school.” However,... (full context)
Chapter 13
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The only time the narrator experienced “direct” racial discrimination came after he told his father racism did not exist in... (full context)
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The narrator ’s father explained that they were there to engage in some “reckless eyeballing.” Thanks to... (full context)
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The narrator tried to whistle, but had never learned how. He managed to shoddily whistle Ravel’s Boléro,... (full context)
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The narrator was relieved that he was not killed, and went into the store to buy a... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...neighborhood named the Dons, ten miles north of Dickens. Before they broke up, Marpessa and the narrator would dream of moving there together. After she got married, the narrator would sometimes drive... (full context)
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The narrator then feels a gun pressed against his head and sees that it is held by... (full context)
Chapter 15
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All the neighborhood children gather in the narrator ’s front yard, driven by the Stank. The narrator’s satsuma tree clears the air around... (full context)
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The narrator gives everyone gathered around his house milk and one satsuma each. The crowd quickly strips... (full context)
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...in satsuma juice. She says: “Okay, Bonbon, you win,” and takes the joint out of the narrator ’s mouth to smoke herself. (full context)
Chapter 16
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Later that day, Foy Cheshire arrives to take photographs of the Wheaton Academy. He asks the narrator who is responsible for the school, claiming that “only the forces of evil would stick... (full context)
Chapter 17
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The narrator claims that he is frigid, because when he was sex he lies completely still. When... (full context)
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Marpessa points out that people didn’t really love Dickens even when it existed. The narrator then realizes that it was Marpessa who threw the satsuma at Foy. Marpessa boasts that... (full context)
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The narrator claims that LA is a “mind-numbingly racially segregated city,” and says that the stand-up comedy... (full context)
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Marpessa may think the narrator is unfunny, but the narrator claims his father was far worse. His father used to... (full context)
Chapter 18
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In November, the narrator turns his attentions to growing a potato crop. He knows that he is unlikely to... (full context)
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While digging, the narrator is careful to avoid the spot where his father is buried. Nothing has grown in... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...children have decided to sue him for the anguish caused by his frequent media appearances. The narrator concludes that there is “no doubt the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals [are] dying.” He sits... (full context)
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...In desperation, Foy has called three famous African American leaders to join the meeting, whom the narrator will not name for legal reasons. Then an argument emerges among the members about whether... (full context)
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...one of the Intellectuals calls Dickens a “hellhole,” King Cuz leaps to the city’s defense. The narrator is surprised to hear Cuz speak for the first time at a meeting. The narrator... (full context)
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The narrator rides off, annoyed. He realizes that even if he does achieve his goal of bringing... (full context)
Chapter 20
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The narrator admits that he secretly found re-segregating Dickens quite fun and “sort of empowering.” He and... (full context)
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The narrator has gained permission to re-segregate the hospital, which is named after Martin Luther King, Jr.,... (full context)
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Later, the narrator hears that his amendments to the hospital have made the patients more “proactive” about their... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...they confront each other they are too tired from travel to have a real fight. The narrator explains that although the word “hood” is now used to refer to any neighborhood, in... (full context)
Chapter 22
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The narrator claims that black people are rarely cast in films because they “pop,” meaning they look... (full context)
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...it’s true that Foy Cheshire owns the rights to the Little Rascals movies. Hominy addresses the narrator as “master,” which makes the audience turn round to stare at the narrator, wanting to... (full context)
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...up again everyone starts to feel guilty. After, Hominy sits in the lobby signing memorabilia. The narrator had forgotten how funny Hominy is, and now reflects about how existing as a black... (full context)
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One of the women, who the narrator nicknames “Topsy” but whose real name is Butterfly, says that there was only one moment... (full context)
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The narrator sees a list of names of people who have checked out the ledger—including Foy’s. Hominy... (full context)
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Hominy, Butterfly, and the narrator arrive at Foy’s house on Mulholland drive. The narrator correctly guesses that the passcode for... (full context)
Chapter 23
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...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... (full context)
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The narrator ’s father always taught him to think about what happened after a given event. He... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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The narrator tells Hampton that his farming schedule means he cannot afford to do jail time. In... (full context)
Chapter 24
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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... (full context)
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...‘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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 25
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The narrator ’s “Welcome Home” party may well have turned into a going-to-jail party. He arrives home... (full context)
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The narrator goes outside to cuddle his animals. Hominy joins him and tells him that he’s quitting... (full context)
Chapter 26
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On the anniversary of the narrator ’s father’s death, he and Marpessa go to Dum Dum Donuts for open-mic night. The... (full context)
Closure
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...the day after “the black dude” was inaugurated, Foy drove around waving an American flag. The narrator asked him why, pointing out the ongoing injustice in America. Foy shook his head and... (full context)