Short Story #343: The Scapegoat by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Title:  The Scapegoat

Author:  Paul Laurence Dunbar

Summary

Book cover to The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers - Langston Hughes.
Robinson Asbury worked his way through life, slowly becoming a more prominent person within the African American population of Cadgers.  He eventually owns his own barbershop becomes popular enough that the local political party wishes to bring him into the fold.  As he becomes more successful in politics, he seeks to become a lawyer.  His friends saw that he will move uptown when that happens but he assures them, he will stay among his people.  Though Judge Davis warns that this may happen as well, Asbury insists.  He becomes a lawyer and opens up office in his part of town.  His popularity continues to stay strong but shortly thereafter, two other lawyers, Bingo and Latchett believe they can give Asbury a run for his money when it comes to the leading voice among African Americans.  They sponsor and support another man of god quality, Morton, to lead the African Americans.  However, the competition still falls in favor of Asbury and so he carries the day.  Later, Bingo comes to Asbury to ask to be part of his team.  Asbury accepts the man as part of his team and he quickly becomes a confidant.  Some time after the elections, there is a call for fraud and the party needs to find a scapegoat.  They decide that Asbury is the man to put all of it.  Most of the party, including Bingo collude to put him in prison but Judge Davis does his best to protect him.  In the end, he is found guilty but not before making a statement that captures all of the crooked politics in town (though he saves Davis's reputation).  He goes away for a year, which is long enough for people to grow fond of him and believe he got a bad deal.  Upon his return, he maintains a humble existence selling newspapers.  Meanwhile Bingo finds himself going up against Morton for political leadership among African Americans.  It appears that the race will be close and Asbury pays him a visit.  He assures Bingo that he can still must up some support and enough to win, so Bingo puts his faith in him.  However, in the end Asbury uses that confidence to sway the support to Morton who wins.  Upon seeing this influence, the party managers seek out Asbury for help but Asbury repeatedly insists that he will stay out of politics.

Reflection

I've read Dunbar's poetry but not his fiction.  I like the tone and style of this story with exposition that progressed the story and was found engaging.  The commentary about where political power is held (within the leader or within the man behind the scenes) was also a fascinating observation captured well by Hughes.
Short Story #343 out of 365
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  12/1/2014
Source:  The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers, ed. by Langston Hughes.  Little, Brown, and Company, 1967.  This story can also be found for free at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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