Dolphus Raymond: In what ways is he important to the novel as a whole?

I very much enjoyed our discussion about Dolphus Raymond yesterday. Here is a summary of some of the brilliant and thought-provoking points that you made:

  1. Setting – By choosing to ‘live a lie’ (by pretending to be an alcoholic), the reader becomes aware of the extremes that people are willing to go to in order to survive in the small-minded, gossiping community of Maycomb. Dolphus Raymond is prepared to alienate himself from the white community by pretending to be ‘unacceptable’. His behaviour is, no doubt, frowned upon by the puritanical and self-righteous members of Maycomb’s religious community, and he is mis-judged, on a daily basis. Yet he is willing to put up with this because he feels it is better than attempting to explain his lifestyle to people who would not understand. This really alerts us to just how small-minded the community of Maycomb is.
  2. Character – In some ways, Dolphus Raymond can be seen as a contrast to the character of Atticus. Both men hold opinions that are unpopular (to say the least) with the majority of Maycomb’s residents. Dolphus chooses to live alongside black people as his equals; Atticus’ defence of Tom Robinson shows his strong beliefs in Tom’s noble and upstanding character, regardless of the general prejudice that exists towards him. In this way, both men are outsiders within their community. The difference lies in the way they deal with this. If he wanted, Atticus could excuse his defence of Tom by reminding his accusors that he did not have a choice – he was appointed by Judge Taylor to defend Tom. Yet he chooses not to do this – it would not be honest. In contrast, Dolphus Raymond chooses dishonesty. He is unwilling to face the persecution that Atticus receives, and so he chooses to live a lie (or ‘perpetrate fraud against himself’) rather than do so. He is perhaps less courageous than Atticus in this respect. Which leads us onto…
  3. Themes – Dolphus Raymond’s behaviour raises issues which are central to the novel’s themes of racism, justice and morality. For example, he is clearly dishonest (Scout says ‘That ain’t honest, Mr. Raymond’) and yet his behaviour is justified by the situation – ‘It helps folks if they can latch onto a reason…’ He is making a moral choice in which the ends justify the means. The same issue is raised at the end of the novel, when Atticus is reluctant to let the murder of Bob Ewell go without a fair and open trial, saying ‘I can’t live one way in town and another way in my home’ (like Dolphus Raymond does). And yet in the end, even Atticus is persuaded by Heck Tate that honesty is sometimes not always the best policy. For Boo’s sake, he agrees to go along with the story – ‘Bob Ewell fell on his knife.’ Dolphus Raymond shows us that what is right and wrong is not simple. Morality is complicated!

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