In this short story Shirley Jackson portrays how harmful Racism can be, even though there’s no violence or murder involved.
But it also shows how a white boy and a black boy can have a relationship to each other with no prejudices; they consider each other equal persons. The game the boys are playing where they are saying “after you my dear Alphonse” to each other, is one of the ways Jackson tells us that they are equal. Mrs Wilson on the other hand, does not consider Boyd as an equal person to herself and her son. Mrs Wilson is trying to hide her Prejudices by being polite and generous to Boyd.Order now
She can’t stop asking questions to (About) Boyd’s background and his family. She assumes that Boyds family are poor in spite of the fact that she doesn’t have any acquaintance (knowledge)of Boyd’s background and his familys social status.Even when her own son Johnny tells her that Boyds father is the foreman of the factory; she ignores it and continues her questioning of Boyd. She stigmatizes Boyds family as poor because they are black; witch (which) was normal at this time.
And she thinks she is right about her vision on Boyd, because a lot of black people were poor in the 40s where (when) the story takes place. When the boys are served stewed tomatoes, Johnny replies to his mother that Boyd does not eat tomatoes, But Mrs Wilson replies back with extreme condescension “Boyd will eat anything” to point out that Boyds family is poor.She thinks that Boyd is grateful for anything he can get to eat, but when Boyd doesn’t want to eat the tomatoes, Mrs Wilson realises that Boyd’s family might be just as successful as her own family is. Her last try to prof that she is better than Boyd and his family.
She offers Boyd second-hand clothing to (for) his family. Boyd explains politely to her that they have plenty of clothes themselves and that his family can buy him anything he needs. “Mrs Wilson lifted the plate of gingerbread off the table as Boyd was about to take another piece” she gets angry over the fact Boyd is not grateful for the clothes she is offering him. She is thinking that she is doing something good.
But she suddenly realises that she can’t help Boyd, and then she want (wants) nothing to do with him, and she is not as polite and generous as before Boyd told her about his background.Johnny doesn’t share his mother’s views. He is completely unbiased. He acts naturally about Boyds presence, like he would probably do to his other friends; he has no prejudices about black people.
Johnny is a good example of childrens innocence. He doesn’t understand his mother’s comments and the racism that is hidden behind them. He is wondering about his mother’s strange statements. But he can’t connect it to Boyd being black.
It is a perfect example of how children have no prejudices.The title of the text is used to support this. It’s a symbol of Boyd and Johnnys great friendship. It shows us how unaffected the boys are by Mrs Wilson’s racist behaviour.
The phrase “After you my dear Alphonse” is normally used in a situation where two people are so polite to each other that they can’t agree who shall do it. It originally comes from a french (French) comic strip where “Alphonse” and “Gaston” cant (cant) agree who should go trough a door first, so they are stuck in the moment. The boys say the phrase when they enter the home, but they repeat it when they are leaving the house again. This tells us that the boys are not affected by Mrs Wilsons Biased opinions.
The short story is written in 1949. I think Jacksons message with writing this story is to show that America does not live up to some of the fundamental principles that build the nation. Statements like “all men are considered equal” and “every man has the right to pursue Happiness” is questioned by Jackson in this Short story. Mrs Wilson represents the average American citizen at this time despite the “Declaration of Independence.
Mrs Wilson attitude to Boyd also shows that it was very unlikely for a black family to be wealthy at this time. Mrs Wilsons prejudices towards black people are the main theme of this short story. Mrs Wilson will not believe that Boyds family Is wealthy, because she stigmatizes Black people as poor people.