“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
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.