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Last Updated March 8, 2024.


"The Scapegoat" is a short story written by Paul Laurence Dunbar, an influential African American writer known for his poetry, short stories, and novels. Dunbar was born in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio, and was one of the first African American writers to achieve national recognition for his work.

Published in the late nineteenth century, "The Scapegoat" is set in a racially charged society, reflecting the pervasive prejudice and discrimination African Americans faced during that time. The story follows Mr. Robinson Asbury, a Black resident of Cadgers whose political rivals exploit and resent his increasing political influence.

Throughout the story, Dunbar seeks to illuminate the injustice of scapegoating and shed light on the harsh realities of life for African Americans in post-Reconstruction America.

Plot Summary

The story starts with an introduction, and readers meet Robinson Asbury, an ambitious and clever African American man who started his career as a bootblack and worked his way up to become a respected barber. Eventually, he opens his own shop in the "Negro quarter" of Cadgers, with a sign proudly proclaiming: "Equal Rights Barber Shop."

Soon, Asbury's shop became a hub for the local Black community, serving not only as a grooming establishment but also as a social gathering place where men gather to discuss news, read newspapers, gossip, and even engage in activities like gambling on the policy returns.

With his business skills and political savvy, Asbury catches the eye of party managers, who recognize his potential to sway the Black vote in their favor. He joins forces with their political agenda and swiftly gains prominence in the political arena.

Much to everyone's surprise, Asbury announces his desire to pursue a career in law and seeks assistance from Judge Davis to gain admission to the bar. His friends and community doubt his decision, worrying he might leave them for a wealthier life uptown. But Asbury stays true to his roots and builds his office right next to his barbershop.

Asbury's rising influence sparks envy and resentment among his peers, particularly in two lawyers, Mr. Bingo and Mr. Latchett, who aspire to leadership positions within the community. Bingo and Latchett conspire to undermine him, forming an opposing faction with the help of Mr. Morton, the principal of the colored school. Morton, naive and idealistic, was caught up in their scheme without realizing it, believing that he was being recognized as a leader.

Many are envious of Asbury's success and, as such, align themselves with Morton's faction. Asbury remains unfazed, confident in his ability to navigate the political landscape. When the Cadgerites celebrate Emancipation Day, Morton's faction challenges his leadership, organizing a rival demonstration.

However, Asbury demonstrates his resourcefulness and determination, and his parade wins. This victory further strengthens his reputation among his followers but angers his rivals, especially Bingo.

Bingo schemes against Asbury, pretending to make peace with him to keep harmony in the community. Asbury falls for Bingo's trickery, making him an easy target in the town's political games. Despite being innocent, he is unfairly accused and found guilty of false charges, with Bingo's betrayal playing an essential role in Asbury's downfall. However, in a surprising turn of events, Asbury exposes the corruption and hypocrisy of his accusers, revealing the true extent of their wrongdoing. He refrains from mentioning Judge Davis's name because he sees the white man as a friend. Even still, the judge gives him a brief jail sentence.

Asbury acknowledges his role as a scapegoat for the party's corruption. However, he also realizes that this sacrifice has transformed him into a martyr. Knowing that he was unfairly targeted, some in...

(This entire section contains 773 words.)

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the community rallied around him.

After serving only eight months due to good behavior, Robinson Asbury returns to Cadgers quietly. After his imprisonment, Asbury's business declined, so he decided to open a news and cigar stand instead. His return goes unnoticed by most uptown residents, but some rumors about it begin to spread.

As Mr. Bingo observes Asbury's quiet behavior, he assumes it is because Asbury feels defeated. Despite offers of help and demonstrations from old friends, Asbury stays out of the spotlight. Meanwhile, tensions escalate in Cadgers as two factions, led by Bingo and Morton, compete for dominance ahead of the Emancipation Day celebration.

Asbury tricks Bingo into collaborating with him to take down Morton, but secretly plans to betray Bingo instead. His scheme succeeds, causing Bingo to lose most of his supporters, including his partner, Latchett. As a result, none of the party members who condemned Robinson Asbury remain in power. Asbury's tactics demonstrate the power of marginalized communities in politics and teach Cadgers an important lesson about recognizing and punishing injustice.