Clay knew that he was not good with faces. And he knew that maybe, on some level, he was especially not good with black faces. He wasn’t going to say "They all look the same to me," but there was some evidence, actual biological, scientific evidence, that people were more adept at recognizing people of the same race.

In Chapter 10, Clay wants to do the right thing and allow the elderly couple to stay over, but when Amanda says she recognizes G. H., he wonders if he has met the man before himself, even though he doesn’t recognize him. Amanda may be right, he thinks, and this may be some elaborate con. He isn’t sure whether he has met G. H. before, not just because he isn’t good with faces, but also because he has a tendency not to pay close attention to Black faces. He tries to dismiss this inattention as a biological trait that is out of his control, unwilling to think of himself as racist. While Clay exhibits less overt racism than Amanda, it’s clear from this quotation that he too is guilty of bias, but he justifies it by referring to vague scientific research.

She was embarrassed to have served this to strangers. The meal was just an improvisation that had ended up part of her repertoire. She liked to imagine some future summer, at some other rental house, the children back from Harvard and Yale, requesting the special dish that reminded them of their sun-filled childhood.

In Chapter 11, Amanda progresses from suspecting that the strangers are criminals to being embarrassed about the simplicity of the food she is serving them. But even as she muses on her improvised pasta recipe, she reveals the snobbish aspirations she harbors for her children. Despite sometimes thinking of Archie and Rose as unexceptional, in her daydreams they end up at the most coveted colleges in the country. Ironically, as she gets to know G. H. and Ruth better, she will learn that they both attended Ivy League schools, further challenging her racist assumptions. Amanda’s embarrassment also reveals that she feels disappointment in herself and her family. G. H. and Ruth bring her sense of inadequacy to the surface because they have the life she can only dream of. The fact that they are Black makes her perceived failure sting even more.

Ruth took her turn. I’m retired now. I was in admissions. At the Dalton school."


Amanda couldn’t help sit up a little straighter. Perhaps there was an angle. Her children, not exceptional (still wonderful in her estimation!), could do with an advantage.”

An ironic reversal of attitudes occurs in Chapter 14 when Amanda learns that Ruth might be able to help her family reach a higher level of status. She switches from thinking of Ruth as a con woman or a maid to somebody with the power to give her family a social advantage. When Ruth drops the name of an exclusive and expensive New York school, Amanda goes on high alert. Her reaction is involuntary because her fixation on social status is so deeply ingrained. As a determined social climber, Amanda aims to squeeze every bit of benefit from her social connections. She is prepared to put aside her racist preconceptions of Ruth once she understands that Ruth could be useful to her.