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The Sellout
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Jan 2017: The Sellout > The Sellout Discussion

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Sara Penny | 86 comments Mod
Hi everyone :)
I hope you all enjoyed reading The Sellout. I'm actually not quite finished, so I've used some discussion questions from ReadingGroupGuides and What Smart Women Read ;)
Feel free to add further questions.


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Sara Penny | 86 comments Mod
Q1: Were you able to laugh at this novel? Did it make you rethink some of your personal views on racism?


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Sara Penny | 86 comments Mod
Q2: How does the author provoke the reader? What reaction is he striving for?


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Sara Penny | 86 comments Mod
Q3: If you were a Supreme Court justice hearing the case of Me v. The United States of America, how would you rule?


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Sara Penny | 86 comments Mod
Q4: Did you laugh or cry (or both) at the experiments run by F. K. Me, the narrator’s psychologist/social scientist dad?


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Sara Penny | 86 comments Mod
Q5: Marpessa calls the narrator Bonbon, a lightweight nickname that emerged when he was competing in a spelling bee at age 11. Is she tougher than he is? Besides the bus, what else does she control? Would The Sellout be very different if it were narrated by a black woman?


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Sara Penny | 86 comments Mod
Q6: How did you react when the narrator created Dickens’s boundary lines, and Marpessa ejected strangers from the bus (taking her cue from George Wallace’s “Segregation Now” gubernatorial inauguration speech)?


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Sara Penny | 86 comments Mod
Q7: Why does Hominy want to be the narrator’s slave? Even though he calls Bonbon “massa,” is Hominy ultimately his own master now that he has been emancipated by the entertainment industry?


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Kate (Lillytales) (lillytales) | 122 comments Mod
Hey Sara, I only got my hands on a copy of this mid-way through January so I'm also not finished! The writing style was unlike others books I've read before and it's taking me a while to get into the rhythm of it. I'm not far enough in to be able to answer a lot of these questions, but I'd love to hear your general thoughts on the book so far :)


Claire (cmoo053) | 109 comments Sara wrote: "Q1: Were you able to laugh at this novel? Did it make you rethink some of your personal views on racism?"

I definitely laughed at times, and I guess that's what makes it a clever satire. You can and do laugh, but it is SUPER UNCOMFORTABLE. As a History teacher, I'm constantly striving to show my students that racism is not a problem we "solved" that it's something we work on. So I don't think this changed my views on racism, but it changed the way I think about it. It certainly made me think about the ways in which it is ingrained, and the ongoing challenges we face to overcome it. I think in the current political climate in the US in particular, this novel is particularly pointed, and it made me realise how subconsciously important white privilege still is to so many people.


Claire (cmoo053) | 109 comments Sara wrote: "Q2: How does the author provoke the reader? What reaction is he striving for?"

I think the whole premise is provocative- reinstating segregation and slavery is SHOCKING. I imagine especially so for a POC audience, but as a liberal white reader I found it shocking too. I think what was most provocative, was the way the author portrayed the African American characters accepting this, and even delighting in it (I'm thinking Hominy especially). I think we are also provoked by the fact that it is an African American character who reinstates these institutions of racism.

My feeling was that Beatty was aiming to shock us, but in doing so, to reevaluate how much we consider racism a "fixed" problem. I guess he was trying to show us also, how ingrained subordination is in so many African Americans, and how difficult that fight against racism is. The book showed me that in so many cases, it is easier to go back to institutionalised racism, rather than fighting against it. For me, this is something that I feel that as a white person, I may not every fully understand, but I hope I can empathise with better having read this book.


Claire (cmoo053) | 109 comments Sara wrote: "Q3: If you were a Supreme Court justice hearing the case of Me v. The United States of America, how would you rule?"

How do you rule? So hard to know, and I guess that's the fundamental question of the novel. Has he done the right thing? Or the wrong thing? In ruling against Me, you are effectively sentencing someone for making a genuine attempt to address the issue of racism, in a way that was embraced by the community it impacted. But in ruling for him, you are ruling against the Constitution, which is a significant call. I don't know that I know the answer to this question. I don't know that there is a right answer.


Claire (cmoo053) | 109 comments Sara wrote: "Q4: Did you laugh or cry (or both) at the experiments run by F. K. Me, the narrator’s psychologist/social scientist dad?"

Definitely a both for me. Clearly some of these experiments would almost constitute abuse, or neglect in a modern sense, and F. K. Me clearly was more concerned by his experiments and what could be learned from him, than parenting in a traditional sense. However, one could also read these experiments as his way of showing he cared deeply- trying to make a better world for his son.

In many ways, like the rest of the novel, these experiments were comical but also devastatingly tragic. I guess the point was to both laugh and cry, and I did.


Claire (cmoo053) | 109 comments Sara wrote: "Q5: Marpessa calls the narrator Bonbon, a lightweight nickname that emerged when he was competing in a spelling bee at age 11. Is she tougher than he is? Besides the bus, what else does she control..."

Well, this is a multi-layered question!

I think in many ways Marpessa is tougher than Bonbon. Possibly because has had a more real experience of life than Bonbon has. Although brutal at times, Bonbon's dad's experiments sheltered him somewhat from the tough realities of everyday life in Dickens when he was growing up. I think throughout the novel, Bonbon shows how soft-centred he is.

Marpessa definitely controls the bus, but throughout the novel she almost controls everyone else in it. Bonbon is definitely controlled to a certain extent by his love for her- and many of his actions are motivated by a need to impress. In the bus she shows how much influence she has over the other characters. It is her acceptance of the stickers that help them to thrive in Dickens.

Would the novel be different if narrated by a Black woman? I think definitely- inherently any novel would be different if narrated by a woman or a man. I think that Marpessa certainly has faced a broader range of struggles than Bonbon, and her more real life experience would change how she viewed and approached the racism problem.


Claire (cmoo053) | 109 comments Sara wrote: "Q6: How did you react when the narrator created Dickens’s boundary lines, and Marpessa ejected strangers from the bus (taking her cue from George Wallace’s “Segregation Now” gubernatorial inaugurat..."

I had a real celebratory feeling when Bonbon recreated the boundaries of Dickens. I think as much as this novel is about racism, it is also about how a place is an important part of identity. The loss of the boundaries, and therefore of the place Dickens, was devastating to so many of its people. It is important to them that they are from there. Although it might not be the most traditionally desirable location, it is a location to which they belonged. The recreation of the borders is a reclaiming of part of their identity.

Similarly, I read Marpessa's ejecting of strangers from the bus as a reclaiming of control, or autonomy, and ownership of the place.


Claire (cmoo053) | 109 comments Sara wrote: "Q7: Why does Hominy want to be the narrator’s slave? Even though he calls Bonbon “massa,” is Hominy ultimately his own master now that he has been emancipated by the entertainment industry?"

I definitely think in servitude to Bonbon, Hominy has ultimately become his own master. Like the question states, the real enslavement for Hominy was to the entertainment industry, and in enslaving himself to Bonbon, he created the conditions which allowed him to break this real slavery. I think calling Bonbon "Massa" gave Hominy the security to break free- and a feeling of purpose.


message 17: by Sara (new) - added it

Sara Penny | 86 comments Mod
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this one, Claire! :)

I found this one to be quite challenging to begin with, being thrown into the Washington DC prologue with very little explanation. To be honest, if this wasn't a book club book I might not have continued. But I'm glad I did.

I really liked your response to Q2. This felt like the point of the book for me too. It was interesting reading about segregation as a positive motivator for the children of Dickens. I think that really showed how ingrained racism is.

There were parts of the book I was able to laugh at without feeling horrible, mostly the narrators laid back farming lifestyle. I felt really awful picturing F.K. Me's social experiments and his parenting in general.


Claire (cmoo053) | 109 comments Sara wrote: "Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this one, Claire! :)

I found this one to be quite challenging to begin with, being thrown into the Washington DC prologue with very little explanation...."


I totally agree Sara- I found it definitely dense to get into. I was glad I was in the right mind-frame for it at the time.

It was definitely equal parts funny and awful for me. A great selection for discussion.


message 19: by Barb Cherem (last edited Feb 27, 2017 08:04PM) (new)

Barb Cherem | 1 comments Sara wrote: "Q2: How does the author provoke the reader? What reaction is he striving for?"

I felt as if Beatty was poking fun at the reader, at least white liberals, most particularly. The F.K. Me (was fuck me) parenting and reminded me of the experiments of Skinner with his kids, but had that black twist of every imaginable story, such as the black doll/white doll experiments, which when all took in combination one couldn't actually take seriously.
I imagined Dickensian treatments and thus the name Dickens for the town ---and on it went. I felt it was a bit overt and direct such that I felt like I was choking a bit on the satire. It was uncomfortable, but also overly "dense" in its satire, such that I found it difficult to read and enjoy.
Though clever, it was a bit too much for me to really take in. I can't say that I really was able to read and absorb it, so I ended up skimming after the first few chapters.
A worthy book club book, 'cause LOTS to discuss and different views I'm sure. Thought it attempted a nearly riotous satire, that I knew I was getting skewered quite regularly. Love to hear an interview with the author, as lots of emotion here.


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