Institutional Racism in Shirley Jackson’s “After you, my dear Alphonse”

Shirley Jackson’s “After you, my dear Alphonse” distinguishes the subtle racism still existent today. The purpose of the text is to show how racism without violence is still racist and harmful.

The story begins with Johnny introducing his friend to his mother, Mrs. Wilson. She then interrogates the boy and only assumes negative things of his quality of life.

The subtle racism is evident in the title, the setting and through the dialogue of the characters.

The phrase “After you my dear Alphonse” is actually a reference to a comic strip from 1905 between Alphonse and his friend Gaston.

It signifies a play on words between two individuals as though they are saying “No, you go first.” It is an action of politeness.

This is important in the story because it shows how Johnny and Boyd view each other as friends and more importantly as equals.

This is shown by how Johnny tells his mother that Boyd does not like tomatoes, and that he does not need extra food as he is bigger than Johnny.

In the story Johnny does not understand why his mother is interrogating Boyd as he is his friend. This demonstrates how racism is passed through generations by the children typically mirroring the parents’ behavior. Johnny acts as though Boyd is solely his friend as he should, and his mother is making him feel as though he is unwelcome.

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