Week 8

After my discussion today with the Tuesday class, I decided to give you a present: Time.

Let’s amend the plan for this week. We’re going to hold off on reading the article by Jodi Melamed for now– I’ll bring you a hard copy next week, and we’ll discuss what to do next– so you can focus on your annotation assignment.

I want you all to do a really good job on that, and I hope that you will also have your thesis in mind while you do it. And we are still reading Beatty, and I feel like we have a lot to discuss.

So. This week, read The Sellout as planned, and do your annotation assignment. And know that we’ll start thinking more seriously about your thesis beginning next week, so that is something to ponder, too

So! To get ready for our discussion next week, I want to know your concluding thoughts and questions about The Sellout.


  • How does our discussion about the proleptic beginning change the way you read the ending?
  • How does your reading of Galtung change the way you read the novel as a whole– could you work toward a thesis statement that brings those two readings together? (This will be harder, probably, for students in the Wednesday class, since we didn’t get to discuss this yet.)
  • If you were going to write an essay question about The Sellout, what would it be?

Then, also, I want to know what’s on your mind about your thesis. What is exciting to you about the prospect of writing it, and what do you think you’ll need to learn in order to do it well?

I’m asking the question this way as I am thinking about how I can help you learn those things, because I want the thesis to be an exciting and really meaningful experience for you. I’ve been happy to watch you guys having so many good ideas, and I’m sincerely eager to see what happens next.

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16 Responses to Week 8

  1. Emily Abrams says:

    – As we know, Beatty is acutely aware of how race operates in contemporary American society (paralleled in the near future setting of his novel). His “race wash options” for the Dickens’ car wash on Page 227 is a brilliant deconstruction of the roles of, characteristics of, and spaces occupied by whites. Galtung’s examination of structural violence pairs incredibly well for assessing Beatty’s hierarchy. Applying Galtung to these outlined privileges forces a reader to consider where institutional/structural violence might be operating. As mentioned in class, by classifying something as “violent,” it in turn serves as an impetus for society to seek remediation.
    – We also spoke in a previous class about the phenomena(?) of holding non-white and/or non-western writers to a standard of being voices for their communities. It’s worth examining the moments in which the narrator utilizes “I” if there’s a possibility one could conflate it as Beatty’s own views. Where might we argue Beatty’s fuses/detaches his views with the narrator. Consider as a good example this following line: “Sometimes I wish Darth Vader had been my father. I’d have been better off. I wouldn’t have a right hand, but I definitely wouldn’t have the burden of being black and constantly having to decide when and if I gave a shit about anything” (257).
    – The chapter, “Unmitigated Blackness,” is incredibly written, even in its vulgarity (which, let’s face it, by the final chapter we should anticipate given the Beatty’s clear no-holds-barred approach on display prior). A scathing rebuke of Washington’s complacency with an unjust system comes to climax with Beatty’s assessment that “the Supreme Court is where the country takes out its dick and tits and decides who’s going to get fucked and who’s getting a taste of mother’s milk” (270). The fact that the novel’s ending, left without the Court’s ruling, in turn leaves it to the readers to decide for themselves. As the fictional Court wrestled with this question, we the readers are literally left at the end of the novel, pushed to grapple with the question about Me’s actions. But not constitutionality; rather, we may consider whether if it’s “Constitutional or Institutional,” as satirically encapsulated in Me’s Welcome Home banner. Ruling on this fictional case seems like a Catch 22 situation if you ask me. So, Beatty’s ending is the best we could hope for – the alternative, a ruling, would be disconcerting no matter the outcome.
    – If there’s one line that so succinctly summarizes and came to fruition given the reception of Beatty’s novel, it’d be this one: “Well, I’ve whispered ‘Racism’ in a post-racial world” (262). I guess my essay question would ask for one to respond to this line, explaining its nuances and provide examples in which Beatty’s novel applies to its own line.
    – THESIS IDEA (*silent scream*): I think I’m more inclined to write on more contemporary texts rather than those of past centuries – for me personally, I feel like I’d be more engaged, I wouldn’t feel drained. I’m most fascinated with reader reception of novels and investigating (as our class has been doing) what makes literature “good.” I’m leaning towards writing a thesis that examines reader reception/fascination with psychological thrillers, psychopathy, and maybe the broader implications of such tropes of women in duress, if that makes any sense. I could see myself doing a comparative literary analysis of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, examining the heroines(?) of each – it would begin as textual analyses, and expand to reader reception of these novels because of these psychological twists/elements (secondary sources / book reviews). I’ll have to focus this more in the coming weeks, I know…

  2. Kaitlin Margaret McDermott says:

    I am reluctant to make the claim that The Sellout comes full circle – after all, we began at the end, and ended at another end, so it seems that, in the space from page 1 to page 289, Beatty’s narrative traveled not in a circular arc, but rather in an extended line, albeit not-strictly-linearly.

    Circles and lines aside, in reading the last section of the novel I was particularly struck by the passages about closure. It’s a concept that comes up prominently in this section (especially seeing as the final chapter is literally called “Closure”) and one that I think warrants some attention within the narrative structure of this text and in thinking about the question: Is this a realist novel?

    “In all his years of study and practice, he’d never heard a patient of color talk of needing ‘closure.’ They needed revenge. They needed distance. Forgiveness and a good lawyer maybe, but never closure. He said people mistake suicide, murder, lap band surgery, interracial marriage, and overtipping for closure, when in reality what they’ve achieved is erasure” (261). Closure seems to be a faulty concept – a satisfying explanation for things that seem conveniently timed or destined or fitting. “A false psychological concept… invented by therapists to assuage white Western guilt,” it is a racialized ideal that, in practice, obscures true impact and experience by making significant some end-point. The examples of closure given by Beatty point at the fundamental tension he’s getting at when we talk about “closure”: Whose feelings are we talking about? Who experiences closure? Who benefits from it? Take his example of suicide: Does a person who commits suicide experience closure after their own death? Doubtful. Does their support network, family, friends, etc. experience a sort of morbid closure? Maybe. What’s erased in the proclamation, however, is struggle, complexity, and the sheer unfairness of it all. Did the Lovings experience closure at the end of their court battles? Or, did society declare their case a milestone – a closing chapter in the long book of racist institutional structures? What I’m getting – what I think Beatty is getting at in these lines – is that “closure” is something experienced by those who hope for an end, not necessarily those who need it.

    “I remember the day after the black dude was inaugurated,” begins the final chapter (289). In this short, one-page chapter, Me recalls the reaction of those around him to the election of the first black president. In it, Me wonders why people like Foy acted “proud,” flying the flag and celebrating the progress for black people. In a chapter titled “Closure” it seems significant that we are forced to look back at this historic moment. The final page of the novel takes place not in the present, but in the past. In a novel that opens at the close, what does it say that we end looking back? And, why are we looking back to this specific moment? I’m inclined to say that, as in much of the novel, Beatty uses this moment as a way of reflecting on something that actually happens in our country. Did racism end with the election of Barack Obama? No, of course not (duh). Do some people believe firmly that it did? You bet. Ah, closure.

    Maybe closure is the way some people process hardship. But, it’s also the way we shroud complicated sections of our past in optimism, tied with neater, more attractive ribbon.

    On the thesis: The prospect of starting feels cumbersome in itself. As someone who struggles with finding ideas that I feel excited about for more than a couple hours, I am feeling a bit lost when it comes to even choosing a topic. I know that I enjoy certain kinds of books, and that certain questions seem more interesting to me than others, but I don’t quite know what narrowing that down looks like for me. I’m excited to read some interesting things that will hopefully inform my understanding of a text that excites me. I feel like I personally would benefit from having some time work-shopping with classmates and/or doing one-on-one conferencing with Prof. Fisk.

  3. In Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout” race is a topic that is constantly brought up throughout the text. If I had to create an essay question for this text it would be how does Beatty discuss different races of people in the text? For further thought, what races does he mention? Why does he mention these races, but not others? Is the narrator really a sellout like Foy Cheshire appears to believe? These are a few questions that came to mind for an essay question pertaining to race. I do believe race is brought up numerous times in this text, especially in the final chapters of the text. He writes, “Dickens is an unincorporated city in southwest Los Angeles County. Used to be all black, now there’s hella Mexicans” (Beatty, 223). The narrator and Hominy read about Dickens in an online encyclopedia, which causes Hominy to be ecstatic. This person who wrote on the online encyclopedia about Dickens believes there is more Mexican people than blacks, instead of discussing something else about Dickens. This topic of race continues when the narrator asserts, “Black people pop. “Pop” being Hollywood slang for having a dynamic camera presence, for being almost too photogenic” (Beatty, 238). The narrator appears to make it sound bad that blacks look good when a photo is taken of them. We see that this is a problem when the narrator uses the words “almost too photogenic,” which shows that he is not praising this race of people for being photogenic.

    Now, the thesis I have in mind is going to pertain to death in literature. When I spoke with Professor Fisk in class about my topic she pointed out how the deaths I wanted to focus on in Orhan Pamuk’s “The Museum of Innocence” is not the major death we all remember. She pointed out that the deaths I wanted to focus on, like the funerals Kemal was able to see out the window of his home, is details that we overlook as readers. This idea definitely needs to be shaped up a bit more, but I’m excited to see what I come up with in the following weeks.

  4. maggie c says:

    -The discussion about the proleptic beginning discussion changes the way I read the ending
    because I feel like there’s a sense of finality to it that I didn’t get when initially reading
    “And he’s right. I never will” is echoed with the same sort of finality found within “…so fucking
    be it.” Maybe the lack of closure is the whole point. The idea that there can be no closure from
    such an observation/stance the book takes. After reading something as jarring as Beatty puts
    together for the span of the story it almost seems like closure would be unnatural. Every time I
    skim through and re0read it-all I think about is Galtung’s quote about how “certain unacceptable orders are still compliant with peace” and how maybe Beatty is being super ironic about that here.
    I actually did my reflection Galtung and discussing his work (and keyterms) in conjunction
    with the text. Overall, I feel like it helps me understand the piece on a much more metaphorical
    level. If I had to work on a thesis statement that brings the two together I’d probably discuss
    psychological violence within the text and how its reflective of Galtung’s theories (and how it
    sometimes tries to challenge them.) The essay question I’d write about The Sellout would have to
    do with use of satire and whether or not the novel is and what using satire/comedic irony brings
    to the novel.

    For my thesis I have a lot on my mind-though I think it mostly falls into the realm of gothic lit or
    sci-fi…or feminism? One idea I have is to write something on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll
    and Mr. Hyde and how it resonates with lgbt themes, how it resonates with certain archetypes, or
    just—-other novels throughout literature in general. Another idea I have is to write about
    the divide between women in literature/on tv and in real life and lack of representation- I’d also love to explore (as I did in a smaller essay for another class and feel as though I can branch off) what makes “bad sci-fi” a thing and what doesn’t-and is it actually as “cringe-worthy” as we think or is there something else going on behind it? And of course-the idea of tragic things being perceived as comedic and how sometimes what’s considered comic relief is actually meaningful and important to a story (much along the lines of minor characters getting their day sort of thing, or the importance of the deuteragonist etc…) Probably lots of others I’m forgetting at the moment too because the minute I reread some books all of a sudden I’m just like “wow, what a great piece to write something on” and then it’s forgotten until I pick up the book once more from its towering pile during midterms week. I’m excited about doing work on films/other forms of media alongside literature and writing about an idea across the different mediums of writing. I want to narrow down an idea at this point and do lots of outlining. I feel like I could pick a completely different thesis in two weeks from now and also be totally okay with that because whenever you write there’s going to be several drafts at least and I’m more than happy to be surprised with where/what I come up with as things change. I also love the idea of discussing in groups/in class because I feel like that helps in a lot of ways as well and would love to spend time doing that.

  5. How does our discussion about the proleptic beginning change the way I read the ending?

    I try not to let our in-class discussions influence my initial reading too heavily, as I find it important to take a novel for what it is on a first reading. It is, after all, art. That said, I often fail. It’s difficult to compartmentalize information in that way. The use of prolepsis at the novel’s onset heavily affected my reading of the moment when the narrative crossed back through that proleptic moment. It made me stop and consider any assumptions I had made when I first read that prologue and compare them with the actual events that led to the narrator’s SCOTUS appearance. In this way, the use of prolepsis in conjunction with the novel’s ending forces introspection onto the reader in a way that it otherwise might not.

    How does your reading of Galtung change the way you read the novel as a whole – could you work toward a thesis statement that brings those two readings together?

    Galtung’s analysis of structural violence will have a more-than-tenuous relationship with anything that engages with issues of racism or sexism or homophobia or any other product of bigotry. As a result, you could easily produce a thesis that fits Galtung’s essay alongside Beatty’s novel. However, I would try to find a more recent essay that builds from Galtung’s and discusses systematic racism, as that would likely allow for deeper discourse with the novel.

    If you were going to write an essay question about “The Sellout,” what would it be?

    I’m not sure. I just finished reading the novel this morning, so I haven’t really given my thoughts enough time to stew, but the aspects of the book that most sparked my interest were the use of prolepsis and the use of satire. Why employ these two techniques together? How does the use of satirical hyperbole and irony engage with racist stereotypes, and what does that engagement accomplish? How does the use or prolepsis and the overall form of the novel engage with the reader’s prejudices? I have embryonic ideas about how to answer these questions, but to truly engage with them would require more outside information. That’s the point, I suppose!


    Regarding choosing a thesis topic, I think I made it to a nice place during our last class. I’m not sure if the idea I came up with is the one I’ll stick to, but I now have a better idea about how to come up with thesis topics. Find something you’re interested in, find a text that engages with the interest in some way, and start asking questions. My worry hasn’t been entirely ameliorated, however. Now I’m simply worried about whether I’m asking the right questions. “Is this question going to have a rich enough answer to fuel a thesis? Is this question even worth asking?” That’s sort of where I am now. I’m excited to write this thesis, because it will make me a better reader, and a better writer in turn, but I think if we could talk about the process in class it would be really helpful. I know everyone has a different process, but if someone could treat me like a five-year-old and lay out a timeline with each significant step of the process, or something, that would go a long way toward assuaging my worries.

  6. Deepika Khan says:

    How does our discussion about the proleptic beginning change the way you read the ending?

    -The proleptic beginning changed the way I read the ending because it only confused me more. I know that the Sellout is on trial and that his Supreme Court case is being discussed, but I can’t understand if he was found guilty or not.
    -I skimmed through the prologue again and I still can’t tell if he is actually convicted or not of the crime of slavery and segregation.
    -Since a good chunk of the text is sort of in chronological order, the protagonist’s characterization as both a young boy and a man is compelling to read. However, the events of the beginning and end of the story make the life of the speaker irrelevant in a way since he goes on trial for the crime he describes throughout.

    How does your reading of Galtung change the way you read the novel as a whole– could you work toward a thesis statement that brings those two readings together?

    -This question, in particular, is helpful to me since I am thinking of writing my paper on both Beatty’s novel and the Galtung reading.
    -Galtung’s “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research” details the many forms of “violence” (Galtung 167) that exist in the world. I would argue Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout,” specifically Dickens, California, deals primarily with “structural violence” by the hands of its protagonist (Galtung 172).

    If you were going to write an essay question about The Sellout, what would it be?

    -An essay question about “The Sellout” I might write would probably have something to do with satire/comedy and irony. I might even throw the discussion of race in there since it’s so prominent in the text.
    -The book ends with the discussion of the “stages” of the “black identity” (Beatty 275), which I found to be particularly fascinating. The author made sure to include as many examples as possible to give his readers a visual reference for each stage.
    -Maybe an essay question could be to analyze the relationship between the protagonist and his race?

    What is exciting to you about the prospect of writing your thesis, and what do you think you’ll need to learn in order to do it well?

    -I have always been interested in writing about race relations in America and how contentious that can be, especially if we look at the history between whites and their non-white counterparts.
    -What’s exciting to me is having the opportunity to use Paul Beatty’s novel considering all that goes on in the text. Every other page has me laughing or gasping from pure shock at what I’m reading since I don’t expect it.
    -I think, and I’m ashamed to admit this, that I need to know how to better incorporate theoretical/scholarly texts into my papers. While connecting an article to a literary text isn’t the hard part for me, actually writing an argument and supporting it in academic language is always a bit complicated for me.

  7. Jude Binda says:

    Paul Beatty’s The Sellout is probably going down as one of the most challenging books I have ever read. I sometimes find it difficult to keep track of and interpret what’s going on in regular novels, but The Sellout is a whole other beast. Other novels may have difficult diction or phrasing, but that is not the case here. On a sentence by sentence level, I don’t think Beatty gets too fancy with language, but the real intricacies come when trying to understand why the events are unfolding the way they are.

    Something I have been thinking about since we started reading The Sellout was the fact that Dickens was located in California. This was especially curious because we always associate California with liberal ideas, so what does it mean that all the horrific things we’ve read about has happened there? I have been pondering Beatty’s intention for setting the novel in California, but I don’t feel like I ever got a clear answer. My theory is that it is supposed to represent the potential for digression in even the most progressive places. Even New York is popularly thought to be a sanctuary state for Democrats, but anyone who ventures into Long Island as much as I do would probably also take note of the significant increase in MAGA bumper stickers the deeper east you go. Thinking about all this, I think Beatty’s choice to set the novel in California is a comment on the idea that anything can happen; anywhere and anytime.

    I can definitely see myself using The Sellout in my thesis because much of what I want to cover is about the ways in which people perpetuate cycles of behavior after they learn things from their parents and society. The intergenerational tension that occurs when a person rejects the ideas of those who came before them and the ways in which this rejection results in inner conflicts is what I see myself focusing on. The ideas you are brought up absorbing, the practices you are indoctrinated into, and the extent to which you continue to adhere to them as you get older are the fundamental components of a person’s being. In The Sellout, the narrator paints a vivid picture of what his childhood was like, and I think the experiments the father did on him could be great examples for my purposes. Of course, this is an extreme and satiric case, but I still think it would be a valuable reference if I decide to proceed with this topic.

  8. The Proleptic beginning and The Sellout ending:

    Considering our class discussions on proleptic beginnings and comparing it to the ending of The Sellout, I cannot help but have this unfulfilled feeling. The novel opens up to have this reader meet the narrator at the Supreme Court and goes on a nearly 300-page journey to find out how he got there. Like Deepika, I went back to compare the prologue to the final chapters and tried to see if there was an actual ruling on the narrator’s conviction, discovering that there is not an exact answer. Based on Beatty’s use of prolepsis, I feel like the reader assumed that there would be some form of closure with that conflict. I think Beatty does this intentionally, to bring the reader back to the main reason for all of this- bringing Dickens back. Once everyone hears Dickens’ weather report on the news, there is finally a sense of achievement and I believe serves as everything coming full circle in terms of proleptic structure.

    P.s. (Going back to this unsatisfied feeling) Although Dickens is back on the map, I was really irritated by the final words in Chapter 26 “so what exactly is our thing” (288). After everything throughout this novel, he just goes back to asking the same question he did earlier in the text.

    Thesis and Thoughts:

    As for my thesis, I’m still not quite on what text I should focus on (I’m torn between writing about Antigone or the Sellout). I was initially drawn to Antigone because of our class discussions on heroes and their placement within tragedy but I also found myself attracted to this notion of identity within The Sellout. I think I might try to combine the two ideas and research heroics and identity as it plays out in tragedy?
    Also, I kind of agree with Zachary in that I think a timeline would be extremely beneficial and some more conversations about what the thesis exactly entails.

  9. If we apply Galtung’s article to the text The Sellout, it changes the way we see the text. It wouldn’t simply show limitations ad politics as violence, instead it would take it to a whole new level. Every action, many moments could be seen as violent. If we go back to earlier parts of The Sellout, we see that the narrator’s father does experiments on him. And although to the audience it’s clear that something isn’t right about the situation this is very much violence by Galtung’s terms. You could argue that the first distinction that Galtung discusses relates to this, Galtung states, “But the distinction is less important than the basic distinction between violence that works on the body, and the violence that works on the soul’ where the latter would include lies, brainwashing, indoctrination of various kinds, threats, etc. that serve to decrease mental potentialities” (169). This could be described as violence according to Galtung because mentally, the narrator was very much effected by his father and what his father chose to teach him growing up. There are more examples shown throughout the book, showing examples of violence, by Galtung’s definition, such as when Hominy becomes the narrator’s slave. But it doesn’t stop there. Even by the end of the book as the narrator discusses the Supreme Court we see a level of violence. In Galtung’s text, he states, “Violence without this relation is structural, built into structure” (171). This focuses more on the structure of institutions and how they’re made up and created, and maintained. We definitely seem to get a sense of this towards the end of the book as it gets to the point of the Supreme Court, but there’s a line that seems to kind of relate to the whole idea of structure at the end of chapter twenty four. The Sellout states, “…staring into the stars, I’ve finally figured out what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. It’s that all the buildings are more or less the same height and there’s absolutely no skyline, save for the Washington Monument touching the night sky like a giant middle finger to the world” (278). And although this touches more on physical structure of buildings, it kind of relates to violence being structural because it literally shows by the building structure that the violence of the structure is it’s presentation of there being an unequal chance.

    In terms of what I would write about the The Sellout, I would most likely focus on structure can relate to violence since it can create limitations. And these limitations are unintentionally not allowing the full possibilities or potential, causing a level of violence.

    In terms of my thesis, it’s exciting to know that I can expand my knowledge of what I already may know from history. But now I can incorporate more literature examples. I would like to focus on something relating to the power of women or the uncanny and see how that works. Possibly looking at how women are presented in texts, where they are not necessarily seen as a big role, but in fact they do have much more power than audience realizes, or something along those terms.

  10. – I think the focus on prolepsis throughout our discussions, and ultimately not getting back to the end we were promised is a brave choice from a writers standpoint. Such a strong beginning with no real closure, despite the (ironic?) last chapter title, is bound to frustrate some readers. But I think agitation is a succinct way to describe a lot of how this novel is designed to make readers feel. In that agitation though, we are put into an incredibly different state of mind than we normally are when we read. This is a really, but I think important move that Beatty makes. We read this novel through our frustrations or sense of discomfort, which colors our reading based on your emotional reaction.

    – I think if I were to write an essay on The Sellout, I would look at the role of consumerism and capitalism. There are a few scenes, in particular the diarama scene of the sellout’s childhood, that have really interesting economic undertones that don’t get discussed much, but highlight some of Beatty’s thoughts on race-relations he’s exploring so vividly in the novel.

    Thesis Idea: I think I’m making progress. I have almost a whole idea. Taking off from the discussion I had in class and following Professor Fisk’s advice on looking at the form of the protagonist, I had a random thought about the nature of playing a video game versus reading a book. To the reader, we experience point of view singularly. Books are written at one point of view at any given moment normally with the first person “I” or third person “they”. We either (and again, I’m speaking generally) get the story directly from the mind of the protagonist or from an omniscient narrator with varying degrees of “closeness”. When we play video games though, we’re actually experiencing two point of views at the same time. If you look at playing video games like reading books, we see the same phenomena I discussed above. But, you have a direct, tactile connection to the player character in a video game. And even though the characters in game refer directly to the protagonist, they are implicitly referring to you, the player as well through this tactile link. Video game protagonists always operate in the second person”you” as well as in the first or third (sometimes both). And that’s where my rambling ends. I feel like there’s something there to complete the thought I’m having, but I’m not quite there yet.

  11. Prolepsis brings the novel full circle, but for me, has no appealing affect, as those in my class know, I didn’t quite enjoy The Sellout. Thus, I’ve not had much to say about the novel. I found a few things worth noting:

    1. Setting as it relates to the disappearance of Dickens and the implications of certain violences discussed in Galtung’s piece.

    2. The experiments and behavior of the father towards the narrator.

    On another note, for my thesis I’d like to consider metafiction and it’s importance on the good of literature. Particularly, what metafiction as a genre, affords a narrative. A narrative that I’m unsure of at the moment.

  12. Khurram says:

    I’m cheating a little here by writing after attending the day session of this course. It was a great experience.

    I’m comfortable with the idea that the function of the proleptic beginning–and proleptic form in The Sellout–is to, at least partially, drive attention away from the Supreme Court hearing. We seemed to agree that a traditionally good or bad ending would be unsatisfying one way or another. That “ending” refers specifically to the outcome of the Supreme Court hearing. In favor of either Me or the United States would drive away from the journey between current-time markers presented by the proleptic form. It’s more important that Beatty’s narrator develop the concept of unmitigated blackness and nihilism to black Americans (277), and that he experience Dickens’ reappearance on probably the most common version of a map we see in our everyday lives (284) than it is to have a concrete outcome of the Supreme Court hearing. Though it’s a ruling on freedom, Beatty’s narrator has already identified an exo-structural freedom.

    That’s what I take away from the (near) ending and Galtung’s writing. The “levels of blackness” is a progressional system so far as the narrator approaches it. Level IV is an absolute state so that a person going through the four levels would hope to elevate to Level IV. And level IV recognizes a structure and the restrictions imposed by a structure and effectively opts out of it as a dictatorial force. Level IV people know that oppressive structures exist, they also know that these structures influence the upper and lower limits of their lives, but that’s their extent to being subjugated by it. They can’t escape it; they just don’t really want to play by its rules, rendering it meaningless. The idea that, on the surface, Level IV blackness “is a seeming unwillingness to succeed” (277) is a pretty powerful concept: one’s failure isn’t dictated by the system, it’s dictated by the recognition of an oppressive system before it has the chance to make a failure of you, therefore opting out of it of your own volition. You still failed, but you failed on your terms.

    If I were to write an essay on The Sellout, I’d focus on this idea of systemic recognition, but the choice to operate within it instead of actively combatting it. As in, is there value to recognition without an oppositional action that intends to up-end, destroy, or amend a violent structure? Is an exploit good enough? What does The Sellout say about individual survival as opposed to communal improvement? Are those things distinct from one another? And further, how does the proleptic plot guide us in finding answers to those questions?

  13. Stacey McDonald says:

    I find myself with no choice but to agree with Kaitlin’s statement about being reluctant to claim that The Sellout comes full circle, because to be completely transparent, it left me with many more questions then I had in the beginning of the novel- and trust me, there were plenty of questions at that point, too. However, like the narrator, I will never understand the racial inequalities that are a sad reality of our world, I can simply only hope that as we raise the next generation, we do better in showing them that race should be thought of as nothing more than a figment of humanity’s imagination. If anything, I feel that at the very least, I did walk away from reading The Sellout with a deeper awareness of my own processes and assumptions, and I found myself constantly challenged by the ideals of this novel, which was both incredibly refreshing and utterly frustrating all at once.

    I’m not sure that I would be able to work toward a thesis statement at this point, as I am still working on processing the Galtung article, but I think that if I had to force one out, I would work hard to discuss the importance of one’s surroundings when trying to find inner peace. For the narrator of The Sellout, he seems to be in constant turmoil either due to the loss of Dickens, his father’s strong opinions, or even his own view of himself. By looking at Galtung and Beatty through the lens of inner peace, I think there is actually something very interesting that can be said, and something that I would not be opposed to exploring at some point.
    If I were to write an essay question about The Sellout, I would absolutely find myself returning to Judge Nguyen, “ The irony is not so lost on me that we sit here in this courtroom- a female state’s attorney general of black and Asian lineage, a black defendant, a black defense counselor, a Latina bailiff, and me, a Vietnamese-American district judge- setting the parameters for what is essentially a judicial argument about the applicability, the efficacy, and the very existence of white supremacy” (Beatty, 265), and question why it is that everyone seems to be talking about white supremacy and white privilege EXCEPT whites. Especially except white males. The secondary education side of my double major actually screams with joy when I stop to think about the diverse classroom that this question can be posed in, and the conversation that would ensue from it.
    In terms of my thesis, I have not strayed from my idea at the beginning of the semester, which was to look at literature as a time capsule, a means of preservation for the truths of the people that would never find themselves on the news or some other public platform to discuss how the ongoings of the world are affecting their lives, or literature as a vehicle for social change. In order to successfully discuss this, I am very interested in the different kinds of novels, articles, etc. that I will find myself exploring. I tend to lean more favorably on the contemporary side of literature, if for nothing more than the fact that I can find personal relevance in my reading, but I am also incredibly interested in collecting more from the seldom acknowledged great female and minority writers that found a means to speak their truth even when it was not welcomed. Obviously, this idea is not as narrow as I would have liked for it to be, sorry Dr. Fisk, but I look forward to thinking more about it and molding it into something wonderful.

  14. Venessa says:

    Since we already know what happens at the end of The Sellout, we are anticipating the extent of the protagonist’s crime. The proleptic scene tells us that something big happens which ends up at the Supreme Court. Because we are looking for that specific event, I feel that readers are more intent in their reading of the story. I know I definitely was. I wanted to know what he did, and I thought every little thing would link and overlap to lead up to what he did. Though it didn’t in a chorological or literal order, it was the process that did lead him up to those actions. I was waiting for the ending to be a dramatic event, which it was, so my expectations were actually exceeded. From the beginning of the novel when he says, “This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything. Never cheated on my taxes or at cards…” (Prologue 1) I pondered what he did. If he was such an upstanding citizen, what could he have done that was so terrible? What he actually did went beyond what I expected and it really stole the show because it made me question if he committed a crime or not. His first sentence made me believe he was innocent and by the end, my perspective didn’t change.
    Galtung’s article influenced the question I had over the protagonist’s innocence. I felt he was innocent of his crime because of the structural violence that he felt. A thesis that could bring these two works together would be: How is society defined through structural violence in The Sellout? There are many instances of how the system stigmatizes the perceptions of violence in the community. I feel like that would be a great question to delve into with many outcomes. For an essay question, I would ask: Was is wrong to segregate Dickens?

  15. Zara Diaby says:

    The Sellout is perhaps one of the most interesting books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. The escape into the fantasy world that is the novel is thrilling and insightful. I have made reference before to the other works by black writers, such as Hollywood Shuffle and Don’t Be a Menace in South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, because this form of satire allows for them to make commentaries that will effect not only their core audience, black people but allow for the discussion to be presented to “others” as well. It is very interesting to see how it differs from on screen into a novel. My question is would the story still be as effective in film form as it is as a novel? Would it loose its strange other worldliness represented through visuals? Often time a story has to lose part of itself to be represented fully on screen.
    The way in which characters behave often change based on an actors interpretation of the character. Would Hominy become more of an uncle ruckus type character, another “sellout” depicted in the boondocks, or would he be seen just as a man who is filled with self loathing and acts out in strange ways? The ending was a bit unfulfilling but it show that there really is no ending to the battle we all face when it comes to race. Everything is circular in this world, race and self-loathing, broken homes and the corruption faced on every level. How can Beatty wrap everything up with a pretty bow when he is making a commentary on the world in which we occupy?
    If I were to pen an essay about the sell out I would discuss the use of satire in literary and media forms and how Beatty uses this, to call attention to the injustices faced in this world. Using Galtung’s work on structural violence as a framing theoretical piece.

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