Why is Brockway hostile toward the narrator?

Brockway, an older Black man, is hostile toward the narrator because he fears he might take his job at Liberty Paints.

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When he is hired to work at Liberty Paints, the narrator is assigned to be an assistant to Mr. Brockway. Mr. Brockway is an old Black man with "cottony" white hair, and when he first meets him, the narrator is disgusted with him. He is sullen, only about five feet tall, and dressed in overalls and an engineer's cap.

Mr. Brockway's first instinct is to send the narrator back up to personnel, saying he doesn't need an assistant. It soon becomes clear that he is hostile to the narrator because he fears he is so old that the company is trying to find a replacement for him. However, he calms down as he realizes that the narrator is not a threat: he isn't white, he isn't an engineer, and he didn't study mechanics at college.

Mr. Brockway says he will protect himself from being fired and that he has been at the company so long that only the "Old Man" himself can fire him. As the narrator interacts with him, he begins to wonder if Brockway is not an engineer, but doing what many Black people do, which is to act more lowly than he is. He finds out that Brockway is not an engineer but that the company relies on his skills in order to get the paints mixed properly.

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