Analysis of “After You My Dear Alphonse” “After You My Dear Alphonse” is a short story written by Shirley Jackson. It was first printed in 1943 in The New Yorker. The story takes place in the kitchen of a white American mother, about the same time as it is written. The only characters who appear in the text are the mother (Mrs. Wilson), her son Johnny and Johnny’s new black friend Boyd. The protagonist in this story is Mrs. Wilson. It is also a third person narrator from her point of view.
The fact that the mother is white and Boyd is black is an important factor considering this story, as the story is about the prejudices of white people towards black people. When Johnny brings Boyd home with him, the first thing Mrs. Wilson notices is that he is black. As she turned to show Boyd where to sit, she saw he was a Negro boy, smaller than Johnny but about the same age. His arms were loaded with split kindling wood. (p. 1, ll 32, 35)
Her first impression of Boyd is a little black boy, smaller than her own son, even though they are the same age, carrying more wood than he can, standing next to Johnny, who is not helping him. She immediately gets flash backs to back when slavery was legal. “Johnny,” she said, “what did you make Boyd do? What is that wood? ”(p. 1, ll 37, 39) “You shouldn’t let Johnny make you carry all that wood. Sit down now and eat lunch, both of you. ” “Why shouldn’t he carry the wood, mother? It’s his wood. We got it at his place. ” “Johnny,” Mrs.
Wilson said, “go on and eat your lunch. ” (p. 1, ll 45, 54) Mrs. Wilson is quite friendly towards Boyd, however she tries to make him fit into her picture of how a black family is, and jumps to the conclusion that they are poor, living under low standards, that Boyd has a lot of siblings and that his farther must have a tiresome job. “Boyd’s sister is going to work, though. She’s going to be a teacher. ” “That’s a fine attitude for her to have, Boyd. ” Mrs. Wilson restrained an impulse to pat Boyd on the head. “I imagine you’re all very proud of her? “I guess so,” Boyd said. “What about all your other brothers and sisters? I guess all of you want to make just as, much of yourself as you can. ” “There’s only me and Jean. ” Boyd said. (p. 2, ll 12, 23) There are loads of quotes like this one in the text that show that the mother, as mentioned before, has a lot of prejudices against Boyd and his family because of the color of his skin. Johnny, however, does not even pay attention to the fact that Boyd is black. They are from two kinds of generations, and live in two different worlds.
One where there has always been a difference between black and white and one where that concept does not even exist. It is not that Mrs. Wilson is a racist or a bad person, but it is just difficult for her to understand, that the times are changing. A black family can do just as fine as a white family. “Does he (Boyd’s father) . . . work? ” “Sure,” Johnny said, “Boyd’s father works in a factory. ” “There, you see? ” Mrs. Wilson said. “And he certainly has to be strong to do that – all that lifting and carrying at a factory. ” “Boyd’s father doesn’t have to. Johnny said. “He’s a foreman. ” Mrs. Wilson felt defeated. “What does your mother do, Boyd? ” “My mother? ” Boyd was surprised. “She takes care of us kids. “Oh, she doesn’t work, then”. “Why should she? ” Johnny said through a mouthful of eggs. “You don’t work. ” “You really don’t want any stewed tomatoes, Boyd? ” (p. 1, l 91- p. 2 l 8) The reason Mrs. Wilson chooses to ignore Johnny’s last statement of her, which is something she often does whenever she does not know what to say, is that she finds herself not too far away from Boyd’s mother.
Maybe they are not that different after all. “Boyd don’t eat tomatoes, do you, Boyd? ” Johnny said. “Doesn’t eat tomatoes, Johnny. And just because you don’t like them, don’t say that about Boyd. Boyd will eat Anything. ” (p. 1, ll 74, 78) Mrs. Wilson does not like when Johnny says “don’t” instead of “doesn’t”, in the present of company because she wants to show, broadly speaking, how much better her family is than Boyd’s, which implies speaking correctly. Even though she feels sorry for Boyd, she still hopes that she is right in her convictions of him.
In a way it makes her feel better about herself. She cannot understand the idea of his family being richer/better than hers, which actually might be the case. So even though everything tells her otherwise throughout the whole story, she keeps suggesting that Boyd’s family is the way she imagines, and she hopes that at least some of her prejudices are true. This ends out in the high point of the story, which is when Mrs. Wilson offers Boyd some of Johnny’s old clothes, despites all the signs which should have made her sense that Boyd’s family were doing just fine.
Any other person would find it very insulting, but since Boyd is just a kid, he does not pick up that she is suspecting him of being poor, just because he is black. The reason she acts the way she does, when Boyd turns down her offer, is that she finally understands that Boyd’s family is doing just as fine as her own. She takes away the gingerbread because she no longer feels that she needs to help him and definitely not if he is even better off than she is. She is neither angry nor disappointed, in spite of what she says, but embarrassed.
The phrase after you my dear Alphonse is, in this story, a symbol of equality. The phrase was originally used in an American comic strip, named Alphonse and Gaston. Alphonse and Gaston were both very polite and they both insisted on letting the other precede him. The fact that Johnny and Boyd keep saying that to each other means that they see each other as equal. Boyd does not care that Johnny is white, and Johnny does not care that Boyd is black. It does not matter. In conclusion is the theme of the story therefore equality and that the times are changing.