In To Kill a Mockingbird, why does Dolphus Raymond hide Coca-Cola in a bag in Chapter 20?
Dolphus Raymond is a little bit of a coward; but, a person can't judge too harshly when living in the South during a time of intolerance, prejudice, and racism. Scout feels guilty for even talking to Mr. Raymond because of his bad reputation. She says the following:
"I had a feeling that I shouldn't be here listening to this sinful man who had mixed children and didn't care who knew it, but he was fascinating. I had never encountered a being who deliberately perpetrated fraud against himself" (201).
The above passage shows Scout's understanding of Mr. Raymond's situation as well as how the community imposes their judgments upon little children, too. Rather than having the social narrative tell children to get to know people first before passing judgment, children like Scout learn to judge people based on what they see or believe to be true. Mr. Raymond plays this way of thinking in his favor so people in the community will leave him alone about his choice to have mixed children. To Mr. Raymond, it's easier for him to be thought of as a drunk than a sinner by his fellow citizens. When asked why he told the children his secret, he says, "Because you're children and you can understand it" (201).
When Scout and Dill are outside of the courthouse, Dill feels sick to his stomach. Mr. Raymond tells Dill to take a sip out of his paper bag, and that it will settle his stomach. Dill takes a sip and tells Scout that it is just coca-cola. Scout wants to know why Mr. Raymond pretends to stay drunk all the time.
"Wh- oh yes, you mean why do I pretend? Well, it's very simple," he said. "Some folks don't like the way I live. Now I could say the hell with 'em, I don't care if they don't like it. I do say I don't care if they don't like it, right enough—but I don't say the hell with 'em, see?"
He goes on the explain that this way people will leave him alone and let him live his life. He is a white man who lives in the black community, and people like to make a big deal out of it, but if they think he is a drunk, then they will leave him alone and expect him to live in that area. In all honesty, Mr. Raymond just prefers the company of the black community over the whites. This way he can live his life and people won't bother him about it.
It is in Chapter 20 that Scout realises the "truth" about the supposed alcoholism of Mr. Dolphus Raymond. When Scout realises that all he has in his bag is coca-cola, she understandably asks him why he is so happy to let the rest of the folk of Maycomb believe that he has alcohol in the bag. Raymond's explanation is that it gives people a reason to justify the strange lifestyle that he leads:
"I try to give 'em a reason, you see. It helps folks if they can latch onto a reason. When I come to town, which is seldom, if I weave a little and drink out of this sack, folks can say Dolphus Raymond's in the clutches of whiskey--that's why he won't change his ways. He can't help himself, that's why he lives the way he does."
Thus maintaining the illusion of his alcoholism when all he actually drinks is coca cola allows Dolphus Raymond to escape being hassled by the townspeople so that he can carry on living his life the way he wants to, as the townspeople can "latch on" to the reason of drink to explain his behaviour.