After decades of passing as white, Coleman hints at the “truth” of his race by using the epithet “lily-white” against his lawyer, Nelson Primus. During their conflict, the narrator describes what’s happening in Coleman’s mind: “…by the time they were out on the street, it was no longer possible to isolate the argument from the utterance—or to separate himself from the man in charge he’d always been, the man in charge and the man deferred to” (81).
Coleman’s capacity to “isolate the argument from the utterance” is what makes the “spooks” incident so absurd to him. What is important is the meaning of the words and the context, rather than the way it is uttered. In this moment, Coleman’s capacity to isolate argument from utterance breaks down: against his better judgment, he attacks Primus. What sets him off?
Is it something specific that Primus says? If so, find and analyze a quote from Primus’s speech to Coleman.
Or is Coleman’s tolerance no longer what it once was? If so, what has Coleman been through that has made him willing to risk divulging his big secret?