The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow Literary Elements


Nonfiction; Political Science; Criminal Justice

Setting and Context

Present-Day United States

Narrator and Point of View

Third-person point of view

Tone and Mood

Straightforward, indignant, didactic, and outraged, yet also cautiously optimistic

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: African Americans unfairly treated by the criminal justice system; Antagonist: People who are indifferent to the suffering of the incarcerated and the injustice of the system

Major Conflict

The major conflict lies in whether the American people and politicians will frankly consider what the system of mass incarceration is doing to communities of color and move to correct the abuses of the New Jim Crow.




Alexander lays out how Jim Crow laws foreshadowed those of the New Jim Crow, and how slavery foreshadowed Jim Crow. She alludes to other possible futures of racial stratification and progress.


- "The New Jim Crow was born" (58).
- "Mass incarceration has been normalized" (181).


Alexander alludes to many black intellectuals and Civil Rights figures and their ideas: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, James Baldwin, W.E.B. Du Bois. She also mentions Law and Order (59), a TV show many people think shows the reality of the criminal justice system but absolutely does not.


See "Imagery"


"We know that people released from prison face a lifetime of discrimination, scorn, and exclusion, and yet we claim not to know that an undercaste exists. We know and we don't know at the same time" (182).



Metonymy and Synecdoche



- "[The criminal justice system] was not just another institution infected with racial bias but rather a different beast entirely" (4).
- "[Justice Douglas's] voice was a lonely one" (63).
- "Descriptions of the silence that hovers over mass incarceration are rare" (169).