The Sellout


Paul Beatty

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Themes and Colors
Progress vs. Regress Theme Icon
Blackness, Origins, and Home Theme Icon
Stereotypes and Absurdity Theme Icon
Criminality, Authority, and the Law Theme Icon
Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Sellout, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Progress vs. Regress

The Sellout challenges the idea that the story of the contemporary United States is one of racial progress in any straightforward sense. Many things that are supposedly confined to the past—including slavery, segregation, and blackface—appear in the novel, suggesting that these parts of history are not really over, but instead linger in different forms in the present. Examples of progress and regress (that is, going backwards) become completely mixed up, indicating that progress is never…

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Blackness, Origins, and Home

When the narrator is a child, his father teaches him to ask himself two questions: “Who am I? And how may I become myself?”, pointing out that this is “basic person-centered therapeutics.” The narrator returns to these questions throughout the novel, and they take on a number of different meanings. Following his father’s death and the removal of Dickens from the map, the narrator is left feeling lost, without a sense of identity and home…

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Stereotypes and Absurdity

The Sellout satirically manipulates stereotypes to the point of absurdity in order to challenge our understandings of race, gender, sexuality, psychology, history, and other serious, complex topics. In doing so, it forces the reader to confront their own assumptions and indirectly critiques the norms of representation, particularly when it comes to issues of race and blackness. By exaggerating stereotypes to the point of absurdity and scandal, The Sellout illuminates how nonsensical these stereotypes really are.

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Criminality, Authority, and the Law

The Sellout explores the tense relationship between black people and legal authority, highlighting the often-absurd nature of the American legal system. Due to its discriminatory treatment of black people, the law is shown to be an arbitrary, destructive force that has drifted far from its supposed goal of implementing justice. The novel also explores how, because of the criminalization of ordinary black people in America, the idea of criminality has taken on an inherent racial…

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Gender, Sex, and Hypersexualization

Alongside exploring racial stereotypes, The Sellout also confronts stereotypes relating to race and gender. In particular, it explores the hypersexualization imposed on black people—meaning the racist stereotype that black people are aggressively or excessively sexual—and the way this affects their experience of their own sexuality. As a black man, the narrator is perceived as sexually aggressive by the outside world. While the only woman the narrator has sex with in the novel is Marpessa

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