What sort of person is Dolphus Raymond in To Kill a Mockingbird?

It is difficult to determine the sort of person Dolphus Raymond is in the racially divided town of Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird. Although white, rich, and from a good family, he lives with a black woman. This violates the town's strict racial divisions. Dolphus is clever, however, in that he pretends to be alcoholic. This faked social deviance offers Maycomb's white people an explanation that they can accept for his seeming aberrant behavior about race.

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Dolphus Raymond is an outlier in the strictly racially divided world of Maycomb. He is a puzzle in the way he violates social norms. He is a wealthy white man from an old family. Jem says of him:

he owns all one side of the riverbank down there, and he’s from a real old family to boot.

All of these factors—whiteness, wealth, and pedigree—are status markers that should propel him to the upper echelon of Maycomb's white society. However, he has violated a strict social taboo by living with a black woman and having children with her. In the racist South of that era, he would not legally be allowed to marry his black girlfriend, but he does live with her as if they are married.

Since it is impossible for the white community to understand why a white man of Dolphus's background would live openly with a black woman, he gives them an easy answer: he cleverly pretends he is an alcoholic. The Maycomb elite can then understand his seemingly aberrant behavior as stemming from his alcoholism. The children find out that the drinking is a ruse during the Tom Robinson trial, when Dolphus offers Dill a sip from his paper bag. The bag does not hide a whiskey bottle as everyone thinks; it contains a bottle of soda.

There's a bit of comedy in this episode in that it is easier for the white community to accept Dolphus as an alcoholic rather than one who could rationally and clearheadedly live with a black woman. It is also another example of the way the children have access to knowledge that is hidden from the adults.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on May 13, 2020
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Dolphus Raymond is a rare freethinker in a world that is dominated by confining norms and conventions. He dares to live with African Americans though he is white, and he has a relationship with an African American woman and has children with her. He has also ingeniously decided to pretend to be an alcoholic so that people in the white community in Maycomb can have an easy explanation about why he has decided to let himself live in a way that they consider degraded. In many ways, Dolphus Raymond is a bit of a genius because he has maneuvered a way to live the life he wants. Living freely in a society like that in Maycomb is difficult, particularly when one wants to associate and live with people of a different race. Maycomb is ruled by racial stereotypes and barriers, but Dolphus Raymond has devised a way to live as he wants. He manages to live in a way that few could even dream of—not to mention, manage to make reality.

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Dolphus Raymond is an outcast in Maycomb's society, who walks through town feigning alcoholism by sipping Coca-Cola out of a brown paper bag. Despite coming from an affluent family and owning valuable property by the river, Dolphus is viewed with contempt by his neighbors because he openly associates with black citizens and has several biracial children, which is taboo in the racist community.

In chapter 20, Dolphus offers Dill a sip of his Coca-Cola when he comes out of the courtroom and sympathizes with Dill's feelings regarding Mr. Gilmer's treatment of Tom Robinson. When Scout asks Dolphus why he feigns alcoholism, Dolphus says that it gives his prejudiced neighbors a reason to latch onto and helps them understand his taboo behavior. Rather than continually arguing and defending his lifestyle, Dolphus prefers to feign alcoholism to avoid conflict with his community.

The audience sympathizes with Dolphus's difficult situation while understanding that his method of avoiding conflict drastically contrasts with Atticus's valiant approach to racism. Rather than challenging the prejudiced community like Atticus, Dolphus prefers to cowardly feign alcoholism in order to continue living his taboo lifestyle. Through Dolphus's character, Harper Lee examines how other tolerant citizens secretly rebel against overt racism rather than courageously challenge racial injustice in a public setting.

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Dolphus Raymond is a sad character who, like the blacks in the community of Maycomb, is oppressed by the values and beliefs of white society.  Raymond comes from a well-known wealthy family; however, he has a black mistress and several mixed children with his mistress.  He prefers to live and socialize with blacks in the community.  This would have been taboo in the South.  The mixing of races was something not accepted by white people.  In order to survive in the white world, Raymond pretends he is an alcoholic to explain his “scandalous” behavior.  He is seen carrying a brown bag with a bottle in it.  We later learn that it contains Coca-Cola, and he is really not an alcoholic.  It’s sad to think that it was more permissible to be an alcoholic than to fraternize with blacks at this time. 

In some ways, Raymond’s deception is cowardly.  He is so oppressed by what other people in the community think that he can’t live the life he really wants to live.  He does not speak up for justice and equality like Atticus does. Perhaps Raymond is so disgusted with the white society that he rebels in any way he can to survive, or maybe he just doesn't have the strength to stand up and fight the unfair system.  

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