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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
The Daltons and Jan are interrogated at an inquest. Later, Bigger sees a burning Ku Klux Klan cross and rejects the cross Reverend Hammond had given him.
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Bigger lies crying on the floor of his cell. Why, he asks, is he not able to communicate his feelings to others? Then Bigger is handcuffed and brought back to the inquest. A spectator hits him in the head.
In the Nixon case, the bereaved husband of the murdered woman attacked
the handcuffed defendant at the inquest. Later in this section, Bigger
is brought to the Dalton house and photographed baring his teeth. Wright
also based that incident on the Nixon case.
Mrs. Dalton is the first witness. The coroner's questioning of her is fairly routine, but he becomes hostile when interrogating Jan. He asks Jan several times if he is a foreigner. Presumably he thinks Jan will be easier to portray as sinister if he is seen as a foreigner. Then he asks questions that suggest that Jan had presented Mary as a sexual gift to the "drunken Negro," Bigger. The coroner further insinuates that Mary was used as bait to encourage Bigger to join the Communist Party, and he uses Jan's friendly behavior toward Bigger as evidence of Jan's evil qualities. Bigger sees that Jan, like himself, is an object of hate.
Next Mr. Dalton is called, and Boris Max questions him about his real estate business. Max points out that Dalton restricts blacks to one part of the city and charges them higher rents than he charges whites. Some readers have found Max's behavior unlikely. They wonder whether such sharp interrogation of an old man whose daughter has just been murdered could possibly win a jury's sympathy. Do you agree with this critique? When Mr. Dalton leaves the stand, the coroner brings in his next piece of evidence-Bessie's body. Bigger realizes that no one cares about his having killed a black woman. They are just using Bessie's body to inflame opinion against him and to convict him for having killed a white woman. The white people are still abusing Bessie, just as they did when she was alive.
Bigger is formally indicted for murder.
Many readers question the need for this section. They claim it repeats information already presented, doesn't advance the plot very far, and, except during the questioning of Jan, doesn't change Bigger's feelings. But other readers point out that in this section Wright's attack on racism, including the racism of the judicial system, becomes substantially more detailed. Some readers feel Wright has already made that case quite well earlier. However, because he focused so heavily on the horrors of Bigger's crimes in the first two books, he may now need to remind readers of the horrors of the society that Bigger thought he was attacking. How much do you think this section accomplishes?
The police take Bigger back to the Dalton house. They demand that he reenact the rape and murder. He refuses. As they return Bigger to jail, a would-be lynch mob has gathered. Bigger sees a burning cross, the emblem of the Ku Klux Klan. He associates it with the cross the Reverend Hammond had given him in his cell. In anger, he throws the Reverend's cross away and refuses to let Hammond visit him again.