Mr. Norton represents the white Northern liberal who considers it his duty to civilize blacks. Bearing the white man's burden, Norton feels compelled to help and enlighten blacks whom he considers as a class of childlike, inferior people, lacking the skills and intelligence to help themselves, and needing a "great white father" to show them the way out of their dark and primitive world.
Norton's patronizing, paternalistic attitude, coupled with a guilty conscience over the role his ancestors played, promoting and perpetuating the slavery system, is a demonstration of what prompts financial contributions to the narrator's black college, exclusive of any genuine interest in or concern for individual blacks.
Although he appears to be a sincere, generous man, Norton is simply a new breed of racist who perpetuates the tradition of exploiting and humiliating blacks, as illustrated by his hundred-dollar donation to Jim Trueblood after listening to his horrific story of incest. Norton's actions are equivalent to those of the Southern white racists at the battle royal who reward blacks for abusing each other by tossing them brass tokens. But Norton's tactics are more subtle and covert than those of his Southern counterparts. Although he derives a definite vicarious pleasure from listening to Trueblood's story, Norton can walk away feeling morally superior to this inferior man and, by paying him for his story, absolve himself of his guilty social conscience. The covert Northern racist disguised as a liberal philanthropist is even more dangerous than the overt Southern racist who makes no attempt to hide his hatred of blacks. Both promote and perpetuate negative behavior among blacks — from the Bledsoes to the Truebloods — rewarding them for playing the nigger. Bledsoe and Trueblood are separated by class, but they share the common bond of race. Both their names evoke images of blood: blood ties (the brotherhood of black men) or bloodshed (the brutalities of slavery).