“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.