*Connecticut. New England state to which the unnamed Georgia-born narrator moves as a small child. There he is reared by his mulatto mother with the financial support of his father, a prominent white southerner. Johnson had considered titling the novel The Chameleon, and he shows his protagonist, who is kept unaware of his racial ancestry, adapting his own protective cultural “coloring” as he adopts the mores of the white culture that match his skin color. He identifies with the white students at the integrated school he attends and joins them in tormenting the black students. When his own African American ancestry is unexpectedly revealed, he, too, is ridiculed and ostracized by his white classmates. However, by then he has already internalized their prejudices to a degree that will prove inescapable.
*Atlanta. Georgia city to which the narrator goes to attend college when his mother dies, shortly after he graduates from high school. In Atlanta he encounters lower-class black people in large numbers for the first time and is appalled and repelled by their dialect, manners, and appearance. Johnson’s viewpoint is different from that of his unreliable narrator; his purpose is to demonstrate the dwarfing and distorting influence of racial discrimination on his protagonist and, by implication, on all Americans. Johnson also takes advantage of the narrative opportunity of his narrator’s train ride to Atlanta to document the work of Pullman railroad car porters—an...
(The entire section is 636 words.)