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Free Study Guide-Native Son by Richard Wright-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES

BOOK 3 -"Fate"

Summary (continued)

Bigger desperately does not want to see his family, especially when all the others are in the room. He is so tense he jumps up and stands in the middle of the room. His mother runs to him and calls him her baby. Behind her he sees Vera, Buddy, and his friends, Gus, G.H., and Jack. Bigger feels that all the European Americans in the room are measuring his weakness. In the midst of his shame, he has a strange feeling that they ought to be glad. "Had he not taken fully upon himself the crime of being black?" He thinks they should be contented and feel that "their shame was washed away." Mrs. Thomas tells Bigger the police have been at their apartment every day, standing outside their door. Buddy tells him that if he did not do it, he will fix them by getting a gun and killing four or five of them. Bigger sees the shock of the European Americans in the room.

Bigger wants to comfort them but does not know how. He tries to think of words to defy the officials in the room, but cannot. Bigger tells his mother not to worry, that he will be out in no time. He sees everyone's shock. His mother asks him if they can do anything for him. He realizes how foolish he had been to try to appear strong and innocent before them. He would not lie. He says "there ain't nothing. But I'm all right." Buddy lowers his eyes and Vera sobs. Bigger realizes it has always been to keep from feeling so much hate and shame and despair that he had always been so mean and hard toward Vera. Bigger's friends speak to him. They tell him the police had picked them up, but Jan and Max had gotten them out of jail. Bigger asks Vera about her sewing classes. His mother tells him Vera had to leave the sewing classes because the other girls had shamed her so much. Bigger realizes he had lived and acted on the assumption that he had been alone and now he realizes he was not.


His mother tells Bigger that one day there is a place where we can live together without fear. After repeatedly telling her to forget him, he relents and tells her he will pray. They embrace him. Bigger hates them and himself as he feels that the European Americans in the room are watching. His mother prays and the preacher joins in. Buckley tells his mother she has to leave. He apologizes to the Daltons for making them wait. Mrs. Thomas kneels to Mrs. Dalton begging her not to let them kill Bigger. Bigger calls out to her. He feels violated. Max and Jan try to pick Mrs. Thomas up. Mrs. Dalton tells her she has done all she could when she tried to help Bigger and that things are probably happening for the best. Mrs. Thomas crawls to Mr. Dalton and begs him. Max gets her to her feet. Bigger feels so much shame for her he hates her. Mr. Dalton tells her people must protect themselves. He tells her that he will speak to the people who want her to move and will make them let her stay. She thanks him. Jan tells Bigger's friends he will take them home. Everyone leaves except Buckley.

Buckley tells Bigger to come clean. He tells him Max and Jan are only out for publicity. He shows him the mob outside. He tells him those people want to lynch him. He opens the window and Bigger hears a roar of voices. He fears that they will break into the jail. Buckley questions Bigger. Bigger refuses to answer any questions.

Buckley asks him where is Bessie. Bigger has not thought of Bessie but one time since his capture. "Her death was unimportant beside that of Mary's." Bigger knows that when he is executed it will be for Mary's death, not Bessie's. Buckley tells him that the police have found her and that she did not die right away. She tried to get out of the air shaft and froze to death. She had a letter in her purse that she had written to Bigger telling him she did not want to go through with collecting the money. Buckley asks Bigger if he raped Bessie. He accuses Bigger of other rapes. The authorities had brought women into his jail cell when he was unconscious and several women had identified him. Buckley wants Bigger to implicate Jan. Bigger admits to writing the ransom demand. He admits to killing Bessie and denies raping Mary before he killed her. Buckley asks Bigger if Jan "layed" Mary and then let Bigger. He knows he cannot tell why he killed. Telling would have involved an explanation of his entire life. The actual murders are less important to him than the feeling that he cannot ever make any one understand what had driven him to do so. He feels as strong an "impulsion to try to tell" as he had felt an impulsion to kill the two women.

Buckley tells Bigger he understand how hard it is to be an African American. He says he gets votes from the South Side. A man comes in and waits for Bigger to begin to make his confession. He makes his confession listlessly. He cannot imagine how he can "link up his bare actions with what he felt." He signs the confession. Buckley tells the other man it was not as hard as he had expected. He looks at Bigger and says, "Just a scared colored boy from Mississippi." They leave him alone and he falls on the floor and sobs.

He sobs for a long time because he had again trusted his feelings and they had betrayed him. "Living as a Negro, he could not answer or accept without losing face with the world which had first evoked in him the song of manhood."

Four policemen come to his cell and escort him out to go to the inquest. He sees the mob that curses him and demands his death and ridicules his skin color. He is hit hard on the head and he falls to the floor.

In the courtroom he sees a "solid sheet of white faces." He sees the pile of white bones, the kidnap note, and his signed confession laying on the table. The Daltons are there. He sees Mary's trunk and the blackened hatchet blade. Max tells him he can relax, that he does not have to say anything here. Mrs. Dalton is called upon to give the family history. The attorney asks Mrs. Dalton to identify the fragment of Mary's earrings retrieved from the furnace. It is one of a pair of earrings that has passed through Mrs. Dalton's family for years. Mrs. Dalton says she had felt strange when she went to Mary's room that night. The man asks Mrs. Dalton if she would have known if "someone had possessed her daughter sexually while she lay on the bed." He asks her about the Daltons' charity to African American causes. When Mrs. Dalton is led back to her chair, Bigger sees all the eyes in the courtroom are on him and are aiming great hatred at him.

The six men of the jury are asked to rise and view the remains of Mary Dalton. When they are seated again, Jan Erlone is called to the stand. Jan is asked several times if he is a foreigner. He is not. He is asked if he believes in social equality for "Negroes," if he is a member of the Communist Party, and in what condition he left Mary on Sunday night. He is asked if Mary was too inebriated to protect herself when he put her in the front seat of the car and sent her home. He is asked if he used Mary as bait, as a recruiting device. Max tries to object to the leading questions, but he is over-ruled. Jan is repeatedly asked if he encouraged Bigger to have sex with Mary Dalton or if he encouraged her to have sex with Bigger. As Jan is dismissed from the witness stand, Bigger watches him and feels he knows how he feels. He wonders what the "Reds" wanted that made the coroner hate him so.

Mr. Dalton is called to the stand. He tells about how the Dalton family has always hired African American chauffeurs. He tells about his shock in learning that Bigger had left his house indicating his guilt. Max questions Mr. Dalton next. He asks him about his real estate company's rent policies. Mr. Dalton agrees that he formulates the policies of the rent companies under his control. He is asked why he charges African --Americans more rent for the same kinds of houses that he charges European Americans. Mr. Dalton says only the law of supply and demand regulates the price of rent. When objections are raised to Max's line of questioning, he asks the Coroner for the same latitude given to the prosecution and tells him that he is trying to get at who influenced Bigger long before Jan came into his life.

To Max's questions, Mr. Dalton says a housing shortage causes him to demand higher rents. The housing shortage is not general in Chicago, only in the South Side. He adds that African Americans do not want to live any other place. He says he thinks African American are happier when they are together. Max asks if it is not true that they are more profitable when they are together. Mr. Dalton says it would be unethical to charge less rent because he would be underselling his competitors. Max asks if Mr. Dalton's charity is a salve to his conscience for gouging these people on rent. He asks Mr. Dalton if the poor conditions of the Thomas's housing might have contributed to his daughter's death. He does not understand the question.

A number of other witnesses are called to testify; then Bigger is called to testify. Max answers for him that he does not wish to testify here. The Coroner passes the kidnapping note to the jurors as evidence. They also examine all the rest of the evidence on the table.

Next, the Coroner brings in "the raped and mutilated body of Bessie Mears." Max calls the use of Bessie Mears's body an incitement to the mob. Bigger is numb. He had forgotten Bessie during the inquest of Mary Dalton. He knows the men are using Bessie's body to make the jurors want to kill him urgently. He sees that they are treating Bessie as mere evidence. He knows the European Americans never searched for African Americans who killed African Americans. He feels a deeper sympathy for Bessie than he ever had when she was alive. He knows how much Bessie would have hated having her body paraded before all these European Americans. He knows he is their property. The coroner flings the sheet back from Bessie's body. He covers his eyes and photographs are taken of him. The jury is removed from the room and, in a few moments, returns. It recommends that Bigger Thomas be charged with murder. The inquest is over. Max tells him they will take him to the Cook County jail and that he should get some sleep.

Outside the building, Bigger hears the mob's cries for his death. They yell out "burn the black ape." The police take him to the Dalton house to re-enact the scene. He refuses. When leaving the house, he sees a burning cross. He is confused. He cannot understand why they would burn a cross. He remembers the preacher's face that morning when he had told him that there was a cross for everyone. He wonders if white people want him to love Jesus, too. He feels that it is wrong for them to burn a cross. He hears the crowd yelling, "He's looking at it! He sees it!" He understands it is not the cross of Christ, but the cross of the Ku Klux Klan. He wonders if the preacher has trapped him. He wants to tear the preacher's cross from him neck. Back in his cell, he snatches it from his throat and throws it away. The guards try to make him keep it. He tells them, "I ain't got no soul."

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