Level: Intermediate 2
Texts: “After You, My Dear Alphonse” by Shirley Jackson and “The Test” by Angelica Gibbs
Compare how the theme of prejudice is conveyed in the two short stories entitled “After You, My
Dear Alphonse” by Shirley Jackson and “The Test” by Angelica Gibbs.
Two short stories which I read and thoroughly enjoyed were “After You, My Dear Alphonse” by
Shirley Jackson and “The Test” by Angelica Gibbs. “The Test” tells of a young black girl, her attempt
to pass her driving test and her encounter with a racist instructor. “After You, My Dear Alphonse”
deals with the relationship between a white boy and a black boy and shows that prejudice is an adult
concept. Both stories depict the theme of prejudice but in different ways. The main character in “The
Test” Mrian, is sitting her driving test for the second time. Her employer, Mrs Ericson does not want
to admit racism exists in this society. In “After You, My Dear Alphonse”, Johnny, the white boy gets
on well with Boyd, his black friend. They misunderstand the meaning of racism. Johnny’s mother,
Mrs Wilson, tries hard to show she is not prejudiced.
Both stories follow chronological order. The problem is evident from the beginning in “the Test” as
the instructor is racist towards Marian because she is black; it is pure racism. The climax occurs whne
Marian swears at the instructor saying “Damn you!”, the instructor wouldn’t accept this kind of
attitude from a black woman. The denouement occurs when Marian has failed her driving test again as
the instructor is asserting his power and shows racist attitudes remain supreme. Whereas in “After
You, My Dear Alphonse” there are no problems as Johnny is friendly with his black friend, Boyd.
Later in the story the subtle prejudice of Mrs Wilson becomes obvious. The climax occurs when Mrs
Wilson reveal her true attitude by removing the gingerbread off the table when Boyd wanted a piece
and admonished Boyd for being ungrateful for the offer of the second hand clothes. The resolution is
more optimistic as the friendship between the boys is unchanged, although Mrs Wilson remains
entrenched inher attitudesm her views have no impact on the boys.
The theme of prejudice is evident in both stories but a different type of prejudice is shown in each
story. “The Test” shows an overt discrimination as the instructor is being racist towards Marian. He
shows his racist manner as he echoes the dialect of a black American mocking Marian:
“You-all ain’t Southern?”
“You-all sho can read fine.”
“Well, dog my cats if I didn’t think you-all came from down yondah.”
“Old enough to have quite a flock of pickaninnies.”
The word “pickaninnies” has connotations of black children. His assumption is that her role in life is
to have a great many children. He also calls Marian different names such as “Mandy” and “Mandy-
Lou”. These are common names from the days of slavery.
The instructor whistled” Swanee River”, a Negro song of the South and asked if it made Marian
homesick. In fact, Marian was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania which is in the north.
In “After You, My Dear Alphonse”, Mrs Wilson believes she is being terribly tolerant but in fact
displays a subtle type of racism. She asks Boyd about his brothers and sisters, in fact he only has one
sister. Here her assumption is that black people have many children. The way she patronises Boyd’s
sister is racist in manner. She is pleased to hear that she is going to be a teacher, but Mrs
Wilsondoesn’t think she sill be one; so there’s an irony here.
Neither Mrs Wilson nor the instructor are stereotypical racist types. The previous inspector is a
“Stocky, self-important man” who shouts directions. Ironically, the inspector this time is a “Genial,
middle aged man” who grins broadly. Mrs Wilson is a housewife who is also maternal towards the
boys as she made gingerbread for them to eat.
In both stories, the authors show that it is possible for people to exist without feelings of prejudice. In
“The Test” Mrs Ericson really appreciates Marian as she says to her:
“If I could only pay half of what you’re worth.”
Mrs Ericson doesn’t think racism was the reason why Marian didn’t pass her driving test the first
In “After You, My Dear Alphonse”, the two young boys are innocent, they don’t know the meaning
of racism, friendship is all that matters to them.
Overall, both stories, “The Test” and “After You, My Dear Alphonse” are very effective in portraying
the theme. I prefer “After You, My Dear Alphonse” as it is more optimistic and shows that racism is
more an adult’s problem than a child’s.