“I’s big and black and I say ‘Yes, suh’ as loudly as any burrhead when it’s convenient, but I’m still the king down here. . . . The only ones I even pretend to please are big white folk, and even those I control more than they control me. . . . That’s my life, telling white folk how to think about the things I know about. . . . It’s a nasty deal and I don’t always like it myself. . . . But I’ve made my place in it and I’ll have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs by morning if it means staying where I am.”

Dr. Bledsoe speaks these words to the narrator in Chapter 6 while rebuking him for taking Mr. Norton to the less desirable parts of campus. Bledsoe explains how playing the role of the subservient, fawning black to powerful white men has enabled him to maintain his own position of power and authority over the college. He mockingly lapses into the dialect of uneducated Southern blacks, saying “I’s” instead of “I am.” By playing the role of the “ignorant” black man, Bledsoe has made himself nonthreatening to whites. Bledsoe claims that by telling white men what they want to hear, he is able to control what they think and thereby control them entirely. His chilling final statement that he would rather see every black man in America lynched than give up his place of authority evidences his single-minded desire to maintain his power.

This quote contributes to the larger development of the novel in several ways. First, it helps to explain Bledsoe’s motivation for expelling and betraying the narrator: the narrator has upset Bledsoe’s strategy of dissimulation and deception by giving Norton an uncensored peek into the real lives of the area’s blacks. More important, this speech marks the first of the narrator’s many moments of sudden disenchantment in the novel. As a loyal, naïve adherent of the college’s philosophy, the narrator has always considered Bledsoe an admirable exponent of black advancement; his sudden recognition of Bledsoe’s power-hungry, cynical hypocrisy comes as a devastating blow. This disillusionment constitutes the first of many that the narrator suffers as the novel progresses, perhaps most notably at the hands of the Brotherhood.