Equal Opportunity

by Walter Mosley

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Explain the conflicts Socratic faces in “Equal Opportunity”?

The conflicts Socrates faces in "Equal Opportunity," the fifth chapter of Walter Mosley's 1998 novel Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned center around his attempt to apply for a job at a supermarket in a part of Los Angeles far away from his home. Because Socrates is fifty-eight and has spent twenty-seven years in prison for double murder, he encounters many conflicts, some material, like lack of a phone, but most interpersonal.

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One important thing to keep in mind for an explanation of the problems Socrates faces in “Equal Opportunity” is that this story is actually a chapter taken from a novel composed of similar episodes that trace Socrates Fortblow's day-to-day struggles, relationships, and accomplishments.

The author establishes the central conflict of the story from the outset: the challenges Socrates will face when he attempts to apply for a humble job at a chain supermarket miles across LA from where he lives. Understanding this basic premise gives key insight into Socrates’s motivation and reveals the primary obstacle before he even arrives at the supermarket. Socrates has a bad reputation in his home neighborhood, where he is known as a bottle-collecting vagrant with a murderer’s past.

This is why Socrates travels so far away just for a shot at a minimum-wage job, showing us how dedicated Socrates is in his honest attempt to assert his rights and reenter society as a productive, law-abiding citizen. The problem for Socrates, as the author Walter Mosley wants us to understand, is that despite paying his debt to society by spending nearly half his life in prison, society doesn’t forgive so easily and still tends to judge a person’s whole life by their worst moments.

Knowing this, the rest of the story can be read as one misperception and miscommunication after another based on personal bias, moral superiority, and a hypocritical system that too often works against the interests of disadvantaged people who just want a second chance.

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