Paris Trout


By Peter Dexter
"Paris Trout", by Pete Dexter, is a story about a man,
Paris Trout, who shoots and kills a fourteen year old black
girl. The problem is that Trout thinks he is totally
innocent, for he was collecting a debt from someone who
lived in the same house as the girl and, since the debtor
wasn't home, Trout somehow thought that the girl should be
responsible. The author makes it clear that Trout is
guilty, and his entire defense, that the life of a black
girl is not very important anyway, is an example of the
immense racial prejudice found in the South during the
1950's. The story continues as Trout begins to go insane
and become homicidal, and how his wife and his lawyer are
affected by this. 

We see Trout as a man who thinks that blacks are
sub-humans, and he treats them as such. However, he also
has a very sharp temper, and is somewhat insane. It is
because of this, that he is able to kill a fourteen year
old black girl without remorse. This insanity is deepened
by the split with Hanna Trout, his wife, and his conviction
for a crime for which he feels totally innocent. 

Another interesting character is Mr. Seagraves, the lawyer
who defends Mr. Trout. In researching the case, Seagraves
realizes that he has a connection to the dead girl and
feels that she haunts him throughout the trial for
defending her horrible murderer. This character is also the
only one who is present throughout the entire story.
Moreover, he has an affair with Hanna Trout, where he
learns of more atrocities that Trout has committed, and his
hatred of the man grows even deeper. This character shows
the reader the changing views of that time that Southerners
had of blacks. The longstanding belief that blacks are
nothing better than poor slaves was beginning to dissipate. 

Finally, the character of Carl Bonner becomes very
important in the last half of the book. Bonner is the
author's example of a perfect person: he was the youngest
eagle scout ever, he is a lawyer who starts his own firm in
his home town, and also he is brave and willing to
sacrifice his life for others. In the end, he proves to be
the hero of the book by being the only one who is willing
to go head on with Trout and loses his life trying to save
other people. 

By telling this story, Dexter tries to teach us something.
Through the eyes of a crazy man, the author has shown us
racial prejudice, and how it existed in the 1950's in small
Southern towns. The author conveys this message in many
ways, especially through the varying relationships in the
book. By portraying the various relationships, from those
between blacks and whites to the fights that Carl Bonner
has with his wife, Dexter highlights the changing attitudes
of the time. 

The relationship of Paris and Hanna Trout is very
interesting and develops throughout the story. Even though
the two of them are not actually present in each scene,
their influence on everything that happens is evident
throughout the entire book. Both are mysterious people.
Hanna is a very controlling woman, yet she allows herself
to be abused by her husband in many ways. For example,
Hanna works Parris's store for him, and he treats her as
just a regular employee. She is also physically abused as
is graphically described many times in the story. 

This relationship can be viewed in many ways. One approach
is to consider the couple's roles symbolically. Hanna Trout
is forced to work very hard, get abused, and receives
nothing in return. This sounds very much like black
slavery. The reason for this may be that Paris, who
obviously symbolizes the white man, knows that he cannot
enslave any blacks, so he subjugates the only thing he
can-his wife. 

I liked this book for its stories, but not as one whole
work. I felt that when the trial ended halfway through the
book, then the first story was done. In the last half where
Carl Bonner is the main focus, I think that this is an
entirely different story and the references to Trout are
out of place and usually unnecessary. Dexter does not make
a good transition between the two halves of the book. 

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