Study Guide

Alligator Bayou Respect and Reputation

By Donna Jo Napoli

Respect and Reputation

Francesco's face goes purple. "If I let Willy Rogers get away with insulting us here, at our home, the next thing you know he'll do it in public. We'll lose customers." (2.17)

What Francesco doesn't think about here is that if Willy had the guts to insult the him to his face, then he has probably also insulted him all over town because it is easier to talk about people behind their backs.

"You know what the N****es would think of us if we told them to stand out back? Never! We do business with everyone. Good business. It's bad business to treat any customer without respect." (2.35)

No matter how many times white people demand that Francesco prioritize them over Black customers, Francesco refuses to comply. Here he cares about his reputation amongst the entire community, and respects himself enough as a businessman to conduct business in a way that he is proud of.

"I'd rather have my head shot off than have to hang it in shame." (2.39)

This is a powerful statement for Francesco to make, right? It seems like Francesco places a premium on leading his life in a way he feels good about, and isn't at all interested in participating in prejudicial practices just to make life easier here and there.

"Hey you, boy! Where ya'll going so fast? Looking for Mr. Raymond?"

I stop and catch my breath. I'm in a hurry but it's important to show respect. Blander knows I speak English. Besides, he's always nice to me. "Yes, sir." (2.62-63)

Calogero knows that once you have earned someone's respect, you don't want to ruin it. It is a valuable thing to have.

"You'll paint it black. But later. Tomorrow paint it white. […] He'll see how fancy we can be. With a new wood porch, white and clean. […] As good as his."

Wasting all that white paint—all that money—just to impress the doctor? (6.14-15)

Even in 1899 people were trying to keep up with the Joneses, a.k.a. buy new stuff to look wealthy or higher class. Does this really make Francesco an equal to the doctor?

"Could I make myself useful ma'am?"

The women hush and look at me as though I've said a bad word. Then the one I addressed smiles wryly. "You already been useful child. And polite. Much obliged." (11.43-44)

The respect Calogero shows these women, so used to being treated like dirt, shocks them, especially because they have never really spent time with Sicilians and didn't know what to expect of them. What a nice surprise.

"I charged him six cents for five cents' worth of strawberries."

"You didn't! Really?"

"A penny fine. Rudeness." (11.94)

Even though Calo cleverly made the man pay for his disrespectful behavior, it didn't really make anything better.

Joseph blinks at me. "You do not like alligator?"

"Who does?"

"He can be ugly. He can be dangerous. But he is honest. He is who he is. You treat him with respect if you want a free life." (12.38)

This honesty bit is pretty interesting. Check out the "Symbols" section to read more about alligators in this book.

"All Eye-talian men murderers." She laughs.

"How can you laugh? […] It's the worst lie I ever heard."

"[…] But it's the truth. The plantation owners' truth. And if you don't learn to respect that truth, you done for."

"Respect a lie?"

"A lie they believe… well, Calogero, that kind of lie can kill you. Really kill you. Not just mortify you." (19.7-15)


There are different kinds of truth—truth based on facts, and truth that isn't actually true, but is believed in so much that it might as well be. Here Calo is learning about this second kind. Though he recognizes the falsehood of the presumptions about Italian people, he needs to respect the fact that most white people believe these ideas—and as such, will treat him and his family accordingly.

"Everyone knows already," I say.

"But they have to hear our side," says Francesco. "They have to know that Dr. Hodge killed our goats. He was supposed to like us. To respect us." (24.46)

Did Dr. Hodge respect Francesco before he got fed up with the goats? Did Francesco respect Dr. Hodge's wishes to keep his goats penned up?

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