In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, an enigmatic character named Dolphus Raymond has a reputation not only as a drunkard but as a white man who prefers the company of African Americans and who even has an African American partner and mulatto children. In Chapter 20 of the book, Raymond reveals to the children that he only pretends to be drunk (the bottle he carries wrapped in paper actually contains Coke) and that he does so in order that people will leave him alone. Rather than openly defying whites who might criticize his close relations with blacks, he pretends to be an alcoholic, as if he has no control over his conduct.
Why does Dolphus Raymond reveal his secret to the children? Several possible answers to this question suggest themselves, including the following:
- He values the respect of the children, who are still innocent and good enough to be able to offer him respect worth having.
- He wants to prepare the children for the complex lives they will almost certainly have to live in their society as they age.
- He wants to prepare the children for the disappointment that he suspects will result from the trial. By showing them how complicated life can be because of racial prejudice, he helps prepare them for the possibility that their father may not be victorious in the courtroom.
- He wants to show them that even a person whose involvement with blacks goes far beyond the involvement of their father can be a good and decent man.
- He implies that sometimes we have to make compromises in order to live the kinds of independent lives we want to live. Such compromises may be especially necessary if we are vastly outnumbered. Raymond offers the children a model of how it is possible to be mostly true to oneself without becoming the focus of inevitably destructive hostility.
- He shows the children how ultimately ridiculous racial prejudice is: he can associate with blacks if people think he is drunk, but if he associated with blacks while sober, such behavior might be dangerous. His association with blacks is as harmless as the Coke in his bottle, even though most people in the town think that his associations and his beverage are dangerous and blameworthy.
- He believes that children will better be able to understand his reasoning than will supposedly wise and intelligent adults, with whom he doesn’t even bother or attempt to share his secret.
- He wants to reinforce, for the children, a lesson that has already beginning to dawn on them as they witness events in the courtroom – the lesson about
“the hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they’re people, too.”
Raymond's appearance and confession make several points that are central to the novel as a whole, including the following:
- appearances can be deceiving
- people deserve a chance to explain themselves
- people deserve benefits of the doubt
- we should never be too quick to judge others
- we can learn valuable lessons by listening to others
- social prejudices are often unfair