Paul de Montigny

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Paul de Montigny
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De Montigny, Paul
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There is a lot that "Elly" never explains about Paul's character - where he lives, for example, and what he does - but the one mystery that matters most is his racial identity. Paul visits Jefferson as a white man, but the friend who introduces him to Elly insists he is really black. As part of her proof, she recounts a story in which Paul's "uncle killed a man once that accused him of having nigger blood" (209). Elly's grandmother also believes that he's black, claiming to know "the name which his people have borne for four generations" in Louisiana, a time span that suggests the family changed their identity after the Civil War (218). Both Elly's friend and Elly's grandmother bolster their claims by pointing to what they 'see' in Paul's physical appearance. Elly's friend points to "his hair . . . Like a knitted cap. And his lips. Blubber, almost" (209). Though Elly points to his education at Virginia and Harvard "and everywhere" as evidence that he is white, Elly's grandmother points to "his hair, his fingernails, if you need proof" of black blood (218). Notably, Paul himself never addresses his racial heritage, even when Elly brings it up directly at the end. In the story, he stands apart from others largely in being impervious to Elly's attempts to manipulate him.

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