Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird is, among other categories of literature, a coming-of-age story. When the novel begins, Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, the narrator, is a six-year-old girl. When the story ends, she is nine. Her older brother, Jeremy, or Jem, is ten when the novel begins and thirteen when it ends. In short, these are young children whose entire lives lie ahead of them. They have the advantage of a father who is educated, wise, and tolerant, not only towards his children, but to the myriad temperaments and biases that permeate the fictitious county of Maycomb, Alabama, during the 1930s.
There are two main stories that run throughout To Kill a Mockingbird. The first involves the mysterious figure of Boo Radley. The other involves the trial of Tom Robinson, a hopelessly poor African American man accused of raping a white woman--among the most serious of charges that could be leveled in the American South during the period depicted in the novel. While the story of Boo Radley provides for Jem and Scout's summer entertainment (until, of course, the climactic event near the novel's ending), it is the rape trial of Tom Robinson that lends the novel its gravity and that allows for the education of Jem and Scout on human nature and the realities of racism.
One of To Kill a Mockingbird's peripheral characters is Dolphus Raymond, a white man "who lives with a black woman and has mixed children." Raymond pretends to be an alcoholic so that he can socialize with the town's African American community without being verbally or physically abused by the majority white population. Raymond is perceptive and decent and provides some insights and advice for the Finch children and for Dill during the course of the rape trial. As Scout points out, Dolphus Raymond lives a lie, but it is out of necessity, he replies, as it is the only way he can "live like I do because that's the way I want to live." Explaining to Scout the reason for Dill's emotional breakdown, he states, "Dill was crying and feeling sick about the racism he saw in that courtroom. But when he gets older he won't cry anymore."
Dolphus Raymond represents one of Lee's nobler characters but also one of her more cynical. He goes through life pretending to be a drunk so that he can live among the African American community in this deeply racist town. He has long become hardened to the realities of the American South, as has Atticus, Jem and Scout's father. He understands that, in time, the Finch children, and Dill, will become equally hardened to the indignities and injustices imposed upon people solely on the basis of their ethnicity.