1. “True culture is in the mind, the mind,” he said, and tapped his head, “the mind.”
“It’s in the heart,” she said, “and in how you do things, and how you do things is because of who you are.”
Despite Julian’s and his mother’s seemingly conflicting opinions, both opinions made in the beginning of the story on the bus ride to the YMCA reflect Julian’s and his mother’s inability to confront their own poverty and the changing social landscape around them. Julian’s mother, for example, claims to believe that manners and gentility come from good breeding. The fact that her family once had political influence and wealth—not to mention power over the lives of 200 slaves—deeply troubles her, prompting her to overcompensate for this loss by always dressing and looking her best in public. She seems to relish the fact that she’s the only woman at the YMCA who dresses up for classes and has a college-educated son. Equating family lineage with identity also allows her to live more happily under the false conviction that she is actually better than everyone else and certainly better than the descendents of “uppity” former slaves.
Julian, on the other hand, uses his college education to elevate himself above those around him. Although he professes to have liberal views regarding race, equality, and social justice, he rarely acts on these convictions and uses them primarily to boost his own fragile ego. His fantasies of finding influential black friends and lovers are testaments to just how unrealistic his views are. If he truly believed in racial equality, he wouldn’t care about his friends’ skin color. As it is, he can’t even engage in small talk with fellow black passengers. Convincing himself otherwise, however, allows him to deal with his frustration as a typewriter salesman and separate himself from his mother and the poverty that surrounds him.
2. “Don’t think that was just an uppity Negro woman,” he said. “That was the whole colored race, which will no longer take your condescending pennies. That was your black double.”
The black woman acts for all African Americans when she strikes Julian’s mother with her purse at the end of the story, refusing to succumb to any more subjugation and condescension from whites. Julian understands this and tries to explain to his mother why the black woman hit her. The black woman seems to bristle with rage from the moment of her introduction, poised to explode like a volcano. Though she says little, she seems ready to lash out at any person who might treat her with disrespect. Her barely concealed anger represents the anger suppressed by blacks through years of slavery, mistreatment, and oppression under white patronage. The fact that she wears the same hat and rides the same bus as Julian’s mother highlights the similarities between the two seemingly very different women. Integration has effectively equalized them.
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