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It's a September evening, and it hasn't rained in 62 days.
Some kind of "rumor" or "story" has been spreading like wildfire. It has to do with "Miss Minnie Cooper and a Negro" (1.1).
None of the people inside the barbershop this hot Saturday night knows the truth of what went down.
(We enter the barbershop in the middle of the conversation.)
One of the barbers is saying that a man named Will Mayes couldn't have done anything to Minnie.
The barber is a middle-aged man, and he's shaving a man ("the client") while he talks.
He says he know Will and knows he's a good guy.
The barber also knows Minnie. He says that because she's a woman of around 40 years old, who has never been married, he "dont believe."
(The characters in this story rarely finish their sentences. It's clear here that the barber is talking about why he doesn't believe Will did anything to Minnie.)
This doesn't sit to well with a young guy in a sweat stained silk shirt. He wants to know how the barber can believe a black man over the word of a white woman.
The barber repeats his belief that Will is innocent.
Silk shirt-guy calls the barber a "niggerlover" and accuses the barber of having helped Will leave town (1.8).
Now the barber says he doesn't think anything happened to Minnie. He suggests that women of Minnie's age, women who haven't been married, get funny ideas about men.
Silk shirt guy is on his feet.
The client half jumps up.
Either silk shirt guy, or the client asks the barber if he's saying that a white lady is a liar.
The barber (holding his razor over his customer's neck) insinuates that older, virgin women have issues.
Silk shirt guy calls the barber a "niggerlover" again (1.15).
Another guys tells the silk shirt guy (whose name we now know is Butch) to "Shut up" and wait for "the facts" (1.16).
The client says that even though he is just a drummer (meaning salesperson – one who "drums up" sales) from out of town, he will help Butch do what needs to be done.
The barber says they should wait for "the truth" (1.19).
The client wants to know how the barber can let a black man attack a white woman and get away with it. He advises the barber to go back to the north.
(As you probably guessed, this story is set in the southern US, probably in the racially charged late 1920s or early 1930s.)
The barber says he is a southerner.
Butch (silk shirt guy) implies that he will defend the white woman's honor.
The client agrees.
At this point, a man named McLendon, an ex-soldier, arrives dramatically in the barber shop doorway and asks, "Well […], are you going to sit there and let a black son rape a white woman on the streets of Jefferson?" (1.28).
(Jefferson is Faulkner's fictional town. For more on that, see "Setting.")
Butch, sweating madly, tells the guys in the barber shop that is exactly what he's been trying to explain.
Another man says that he remembers Minnie accusing someone of watching her, from a roof facing her window, take off her clothes, maybe last year.
McLendon says that doesn't matter. He reasons: "Are you going to let the black sons get away with it until one really does it?" (1.36).
McLendon asks who will join him in avenging Minnie's honor.
The barber (who we now know is called Henry Hawkshaw, or Hawk for short) again suggests that waiting to find out "the facts" would be a good move (1.40).
McLendon asks how Hawkshaw could believe a black man over a white woman.
Another ex-soldier tells McLendon to calm himself, and asks if anybody in the room knows anything about what happened.
McLendon isn't having it, and manages to get all the men in the barbershop (except the barbers) to join with him.
Hawkshaw asks them not to do it, and again vouches for Will's character.
McLendon has "a heavy automatic pistol" sticking out of his pocket (1.45).
Hawkshaw rushes out after them, telling his fellow barbers that he'll be back when he can, saying that he needs to stop them from hurting Will.
After Hawkshaw leaves, one of the two remaining barbers says he wouldn't want to be in Hawkshaw's place if he made McLendon mad.
The other barber asks (without quite saying it) if the first barber thinks that Will really raped Minnie.