Summary and Analysis Chapter 4



It is Sunday morning. Alfred accompanies his three little cousins and Aunt Pearl as they walk to church. The five pass a rally featuring a street speaker who advocates racial separation and resistance to white control. As Major did in the clubroom in the first chapter, the speaker taunts Alfred for trying to fit into the white man's world. Alfred recognizes Harold, a stocky, politically oriented young man whom he knew in high school. Harold and a slender young woman named Lynn try to recruit Alfred, but he hurries on to church.

After worship services, Alfred, Aunt Pearl, and the girls ride the subway to Jamaica, a suburban village in Queens, to visit Pearl's sister Dorothy and her family. Dorothy's husband, Wilson, has a good job and has purchased a house. Their son, Jeff, has a scholarship to college and may join the Peace Corps. At the end of the day, Alfred, Aunt Pearl, and the girls return to Harlem. After Aunt Pearl and the girls fall asleep, Alfred takes Aunt Pearl's alarm clock from her room and sets it for 5:30 a.m.


This chapter presents sharp contrasts. The serenity and cheer of Aunt Pearl and her brood clash with the anger of the nationalist rally. Lipsyte presents two public speakers early in the chapter. The first is the shaven-skulled man on a stepladder who stirs up the street crowd. He says that the "white man's got his foot on your throat" and encourages violence when he asks if the blacks intend to continue to turn the other cheek. Easily spotting Alfred as a churchgoer, he accuses him of worshipping the white man's God. He calls Alfred a "Tom." Soon after, Harold calls Alfred "a happy little darky." Reverend Price, in contrast, preaches a Christian message of tolerance and cooperation. He warns against agents of the devil who advocate hatred of the white man.

The settings in this chapter also contrast sharply. Lipsyte describes Jamaica as a tranquil little village with grassy streets and tidy houses. Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Wilson are clearly well off financially. They live the black suburban dream. On the subway back to Harlem, Alfred worries about a large black man, drunk and bleeding in the middle of the subway car. In Harlem, the streets seem dirtier, the apartment smaller.

Alfred is very aware of this disparity. Even his cousin Jeff contrasts with Alfred in a disturbing way. Jeff is held up as an example, a huge success. He won all the prizes at high school graduation and earned a scholarship to college. Jeff was president of his sophomore class and may join the Peace Corps after graduating from college. He plans to work in a voter registration school in the South this summer. Alfred, meanwhile, faces a Monday morning with cans to stack and floors to sweep at the grocery.

Still, Donatelli's message has stuck, echoing in his head: "Nothing's promised you. You have to start by wanting to be a contender." Alfred sets his alarm for 5:30 in the morning, foreshadowing his decision to become a contender.


nationalist rally Here, the term suggests the black nationalist movements of the 1960s, specifically the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975), and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), founded by Muhammad's former protégé, Malcolm X (1925-65).

Tom [Informal] Uncle Tom; here, another stereotypically derogatory reference to the main character of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Peace Corps an agency of the United States, established in 1961 to provide volunteers skilled in teaching, construction, etc., to assist people of underdeveloped areas abroad; here, the agency Alfred's cousin Jeff may join after graduating from college.

Queens the largest borough of New York City, on western Long Island, east of Brooklyn; the home of Alfred's Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Wilson.