The same hat that Julian’s mother and the large black woman wear symbolizes the transforming cultural landscape of the 1960s South, which has put the two women on equal social footing. Historically, racial differences would have automatically placed Julian’s mother on a higher social plane than the black woman, regardless of similarities or differences in wealth, education, and appearance. Desegregation, however, elevated African Americans and simultaneously stripped pretenses of superiority from poorer whites. The hat visually demonstrates that both women are now essentially the same: they both ride the same public transportation, shop in the same stores, and even have the same taste in clothing. It also highlights the absurdity of segregation and racial inequality, suggesting that people are more alike than different.
The penny that Julian’s mother gives to Carver represents her patronizing attitude toward all African Americans. Even though she wants to give the penny out of kindness, Julian’s mother fails to recognize the offer’s condescending and patronizing overtones. White Americans had denied blacks opportunity and access to material goods and wealth for hundreds of years, providing them only the necessities for basic living and expecting them to work happily as slaves. Giving money to Carver, therefore, is a symbolic continuation of blacks’ dependence on whites. Fueled by centuries of anger and the promises of the growing civil rights movement, Carver’s mother lashes out to establish her status as an independent being and reject historical subservience to white patronage.