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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 498

Race Relations in the Midcentury South

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One of the main themes of Intruder in the Dust is race relations in the South in the mid–twentieth-century. Lucas Beauchamp is a proud black man who is accused of having killed a white man. Charles "Chick" Mallison comes to Lucas's defense, in part because Lucas helped Chick when Chick fell into a creek four years before. While Chick's uncle, Gavin Stevens, at first does not want to defend Lucas, Chick convinces him to do so and finds evidence that exonerates Lucas.

The relationship between Lucas and Chick is complicated and captures some of the complexity of the relationships between black and white people in the South during the era of Jim Crow and, later, the civil rights era. Chick is indebted to Lucas for having helped him after Chick fell into the creek several years before, but Lucas refuses to let Chick pay off his debt. Chick thinks to himself about Lucas, "If he would just be a nigger first, just for one second, one little infinitesimal second." Chick is uncomfortable because Lucas refuses to allow him to pay off the debt Chick feels he owes Lucas. Chick would be more comfortable if Lucas acted submissive instead of being proud. Even when Chick sends Lucas an imitation silk dress for his wife, Lucas sends him some sorghum molasses so that Chick remains in Lucas's debt. Chick knows that Lucas is his equal, and the way in which Lucas will not allow Chick to pay off his debt motivates Chick to help Lucas when he is accused of committing a crime.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

A related theme is the way in which black people in the South at the time are considered guilty before being proven so. Chick's uncle assumes Lucas's guilt, and Chick is only helped in proving Lucas's innocence by a black man and a seventy-year-old white woman named...

(The entire section contains 498 words.)

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