The Sellout

by

Paul Beatty

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The Sellout: City Lites: An Interlude Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator has always been fascinated by sister cities. Cities sometimes become sisters as a sign of reconciliation, sometimes in a kind of “shotgun wedding,” and sometimes to deliberately “piss off their mother countries.” Cities that have a hard time finding their “soul mate” use a matchmaking service called Sister City Global. Two days after Hominy’s birthday, a City Match Consultant from the company named Susan Silverman calls the narrator and tells him they couldn’t find Dickens on the map. When the narrator explains the situation, she says it doesn’t matter, and that they will still find Dickens a match.
The book’s satirical take on the concept of “sister cities” lampoons the somewhat childish nature of international relations. The idea that cities would have a matchmaking service shows that relations between different cities and countries can be no less petty than the relationships between individual people looking to go on first dates.
Themes
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
Susan tells the narrator that Dickens’ three most compatible cities are Juárez, Chernobyl, and Kinshasa. The narrator is confused because Chernobyl isn’t even a city, but nonetheless enthusiastically accepts all three. Susan replies that sadly they have all rejected Dickens—Juárez because Dickens is too violent, Chernobyl because of the city’s pollution, and Kinshasa because Dickens is “too black.” The narrator is too embarrassed to tell Hominy about his failure, so he lies to make it seem like Dickens is still getting a sister city.
The fact that Kinshasa—the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo—rejects Dickens for being “too black” may at first appear little more than an ironic joke. However, it also relates to a theory that “blackness” as a concept (rather than, for example, being of African descent) emerged from slavery. This is supported by the fact that descendants of slaves can face stigma even from other black/African people, and that “blackness” as a concept was only invented in the context of a contrast to “whiteness.”
Themes
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Hominy 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 him that Frederick Douglass or a group of Quaker abolitionists are on the way, but Hominy stays in place. He declares that he refuses to work for a master “who can’t manage a simple task such as finding a sister city.” The narrator points out that Hominy doesn’t do any work for him anyway.
Hominy certainly gives the experience of being enslaved a different twist. Rather than being forcefully subjected to the narrator’s whims, Hominy himself sets the terms of his enslavement and seems to believe that the narrator needs to deserve the privilege of having him as a slave—a perversely empowering gesture.
Themes
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
In the end the narrator decides to match Dickens with three cities that also “disappeared under dubious circumstances.” The first is Thebes, the set from a 1923 silent movie. The second is Döllersheim, Austria, which was the birthplace of Hitler’s grandfather. Hitler bombed it into oblivion in an effort to disguise his own Jewish roots. After much competition from various contenders, the narrator names the Lost City of White Male Privilege as Dickens’ final sister city. Many people deny that this city exists, while others blame the city for its own disappearance. The narrator assures the city that it has an alliance in Dickens, “the Last Bastion of Blackness.”
The Lost City of White Male Privilege highlights the ways that race is or is not considered “real.” Race as we understand it is a human construct—although people point to biological factors including skin color as part of what constitutes race, the categorization of people into different racial groups is a social system invented by humans. The Lost City of White Male Privilege is thus arguably only as real as people think it is.
Themes
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
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