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Almost as soon as he falls asleep, Bigger wakes up again.
He leaps out of bed, suddenly nervous, remembering what he had done.
It’s Sunday morning and he needs to take Mary’s trunk to the station. He sees Mary’s black purse by the bed. He looks around, but he mother and sister are still sleeping and have seen nothing.
He searches his pockets and discovers the knife. He looks at it in the light and sees blood crusted on the edges. He needs to throw her purse and the knife away. Oh, and the pamphlets Jan gave him, too.
He looks at the titles of the pamphlets: Race Prejudice on Trial. The Negro Question in the United States. Etc. He thinks these don’t seem dangerous, but when he sees the hammer and sickle and a statement saying these were published by the Communist Party, he thinks they do seem dangerous, after all.
He thinks about how he will explain all of this when asked. He will explain how he didn’t want to sit and eat with Mary and Jan but had to because it was his job.
Then he starts wondering if Mary had actually burned all the way or not. Somebody could have discovered something by now. So he hurries but first he gets a suitcase from under the bed and packs his clothes. While he works, he keeps seeing the image of Mary’s severed head—her hair soaked with blood.
His mother calls his name and asks him what’s the matter.
Nothing, he says. I just need to pack.
His mother asks him if he got the job and what they’re paying him and why he was so late. They argue about whether he got in at four a.m. or two—he insists it was two and she says it was four. She gives in, but says Bigger is acting scared of something.
Ma makes Bigger something to eat and asks him how he likes the people he’s working for. He says they’re okay.
She says he doesn’t act very glad that he got the job and Bigger feels anger rising up in him.
His mother keeps lecturing him, saying this is his chance and he needs to take advantage of it. Then she wants to know what’s wrong.
He looks out the window at the falling snow, wondering if he is speaking any different this morning than other morning.
Vera wakes up and asks him about whether he got the job. Bigger snaps at her. Then Buddy wakes up.
Bigger stares in the direction of his sister, as if he’s in a dream. She yells at him not to stare at her and throws a shoe at him when he doesn’t quit it.
Buddy says he tried to stay awake until Bigger got in but he couldn’t stay awake past 3 a.m. Bigger says he got in before 3 o’clock. Buddy disagrees. Bigger snaps at his little brother and realizes he’s not handling this situation very well.
The brothers smoke together after Buddy shows his admiration for Bigger’s new job driving a car. Then he tells Bigger that Bessie came by last night and said she saw him in Ernie’s Kitchen Shack with some white folks.
Yes, Bigger says, I was driving them around.
Buddy says that Bessie was talking about the two of them getting married and Bigger replies, "Humph!" Buddy asks why girls want to get married as soon as a guy gets a job.
Buddy suggests that Bigger can get a better girl than Bessie now that he has a job. Continuing, Buddy says he ran into Jack, who said Bigger almost murdered Gus.
Bigger says he’s not going to have anything to do with that gang anymore.
Bigger looks around the room, hating it, and wonders what he and his family had done wrong such that they had to live like this, so different from the Daltons.
Bigger sits at the table, waiting for his food, and thinking how this might be the last time he eats here. He might soon be in jail. And here he sits, his family completely unaware that he had murdered a white girl and burned her body.
He knows now that he is outside of his family. He has done things that surprised even him. Maybe he could do anything now. What was there to stop him? Even though the murder was an accident, he knows society will never see it that way.
But Bigger is certain that he’s found the key to something important in life—that all you need to do is "be bold, do something nobody thought of." He can do what he wants and not be caught because who would believe that a black man would kill a white girl and then sit calmly down and have breakfast? He starts to get happy thinking about it.
He realizes he doesn’t have to hide. Everybody’s blind. Jan’s blind, Mr. and Mrs. Dalton are blind, well, Mrs. Dalton is blind in more ways than one.
Mrs. Dalton knew that Mary was drunk, but not that Mary was dead. And she hadn’t known Bigger was in the bedroom with her. Bigger being in the room would never have occurred to the lady because Bigger is black. His blackness blinded her to reality.
Bigger’s mother sets food in front of him and he starts to eat. He asks for some money, just to cover up the fact that he has plenty of money from Mary’s purse.
As he’s finishing getting ready to go, he looks at Buddy and suddenly sees Buddy the way Jan would—as somebody "soft and vague," defenseless. Buddy is also blind. Why would he want a job like the one Bigger has? Only because he doesn’t see things.
Buddy asks Bigger why he’s looking at him that way. Bigger says he was just thinking.
His mother comes back in the room with more food for the others. To Bigger, she suddenly seems burdened, like she’s carrying a weight around.
She tells him to eat his breakfast.
Vera comes and sits opposite him. Bigger sees the same weariness in her face that he sees in his mother’s face. Then he compares her to Mary and realizes how different they are. Mary embraced life, Vera recoils from it.
Vera wails and tells Bigger to stop staring at her like that. He protests and she says she won’t eat with him watching her.
Bigger stands up and tells her to eat because he’s getting out of here. His mother wants to know when she’ll see him again, but Bigger doesn’t know.
He hears his name being called and Buddy comes running after him. He wants to know if Bigger is in trouble. Bigger wants to know what Buddy means. It’s clear that Bigger is suddenly frightened again.
Buddy says it’s nothing, but Bigger seems kind of nervous. Then Buddy holds out a roll of bills. He tells Bigger than he dropped that on the floor.
Bigger is taken aback. He takes the money and asks if Ma saw it.
No, Buddy replies.
Bigger tells Buddy to keep his mouth shut about the money.
Buddy says he’ll keep quiet, but wants to know if he can help in any way. Bigger doesn’t want Buddy’s help, though.
After Buddy leaves, Bigger stands there thinking. He tries not to feel what he’s feeling. For a second, he had felt towards Buddy the way he felt towards Mary when Mrs. Dalton was coming towards them and Mary wouldn’t be quiet. In other words, for a second, Bigger wanted to kill Buddy to keep the boy quiet.
Bigger shakes the feeling off, thinking Buddy won’t tell on him.
He heads out, wanting to taste and experience everything again with this new feeling inside him, "like a man reborn." He wants to see the old gang, to see how he feels about them now.
So he heads to the drug store.
G.H. is at the fountain. Bigger sits next to him, but they don’t say a word to each other. Bigger buys two packs of cigarettes and gives one to G.H., who looks surprised.
G.H. asks him about the job and what it’s like to drive that girl from the movies around. Bigger crosses his fingers and says that they’re like that. The conversation gets him excited and nervous.
Jack comes in and Bigger buys another pack of cigarettes for him.
Gus comes in and stops, but Jack says the two of them shouldn’t/won’t fight. So Gus comes in. Bigger buys another pack of cigarettes and throws it to Gus, who looks confused. Bigger tells him to forget it. Gus smiles, saying Bigger is crazy.
Bigger buys three bottles of beer—one for each of them—and leaves. He goes out into the snow, feeling excited. It was the first time he’d been with the gang without being afraid.
He could leave town instead of going to the Dalton's place, he thinks. But what would happen then? So he decides it’s better to go back and see what’s happening there. Wouldn’t they blame the Reds first?
He takes a street car there and begins to get nervous as he goes. Will anybody sitting around him think he’d killed a white girl? A millionaire’s daughter? And then burned the body?
Bigger realizes that nobody knows what he’s done. As long as he behaves like everything’s normal, nobody will know. So he’s not afraid.
He is worried, though, about how he’ll ever stop seeing the image of Mary’s severed head with her bloody curls.
He thinks about what a fool Mary Dalton was and how she should have left him alone.
He gets so angry at her that starts justifying what he did. She had made him feel fearful and ashamed. Even though she hadn’t started the fear and shame—that came from many women, not just this one—it had made it easier to bear after he killed her.
Bigger watches the black men and women making their way through the snow and he realizes they feel the same fear and shame he felt. White people aren’t people—they’re a force that keeps him and his people in line.
Sometimes, he’d wished he and other black people could come together to stand up against that great white force. But, when he looks at the black people around him, he always feels they’re too different from him.
Maybe what they need is one black man who can tell all the others what to do—a black man who, like Hitler or Mussolini, could group them together to do something big and end this fear and shame.
Fear was what made him fight Gus. He knew the moment he had tried to get the group together to do something, he’d hate himself and Gus. But despite those terrible feelings, he has a vague, generalized hope that something will help him and lead him.
At his stop, he gets off the street car.
In the Dalton’s driveway, he sees that the car is just as he left it, but blanketed with snow.
He passes the car and thinks about why he’s going back. He already has some money and a gun. But, first he needs to know if there is a reason to run.
Peggy stands at the furnace, staring into it. She turns around and says good morning. The fire needs coal, she says. Bigger tells the woman that he’ll take care of it.
Peggy adds that the fire was very hot last night, but now it’s low. Again, Bigger says he’ll fix it.
He wonders if she suspects anything. Will he have to kill her if she does? He sees an iron shovel nearby but Peggy moves away and says she’ll turn on the light.
When Peggy flicks the light on, Bigger understands what’s wrong with her—she’s just ashamed at being caught in her nightgown.
Peggy wonders if he’s seen Miss Dalton yet and when he says no, she says that the car isn’t the garage. Bigger says that’s because Miss Dalton told him to leave it out.
Peggy reminds Bigger not to forget Miss Dalton’s trunk.
He’s quiet and still for a long time after she leaves. Then he looks around the room to see if there are any signs of what happened. He sees a small piece of blood-stained newspaper on the floor in front of him but it’s so small, Peggy wouldn’t have seen it.
Bigger opens the furnace to see if Mary’s body burned. It has but he still sees the image of her body in the shape of the red burning coals.
He pulls the lever for more coal. But he doesn’t want to poke the coal and hopes nobody else will either.
Then he runs to his room and puts the communist pamphlets in a neat pile on the dresser drawer, so that they wouldn’t look like he’d read them if his room is searched.
He takes the trunk to the car and fastens it to the top.
It’s 8:20 so he has to wait for Mary to come out. Then he thinks that maybe he should ring the bell for her.
At that moment, Bigger sees the snow in all its intense brightness and he realizes he should go ask for Mary, otherwise it might seem like he doesn’t expect her to come out.
Peggy comes hurrying to the door and asks if she’s come out yet. No, Bigger replies, and it’s getting late.
Peggy runs up the stairs to see and then comes down and announces that Mary isn’t there. They go through the round of questions. All Bigger knows (or says he knows) is he’s supposed to drive Miss Dalton to the station and she told him to bring her trunk down last night.
Peggy says he should take the trunk on then. Maybe Mary didn’t stay at home last night. Then Bigger makes sure she knows that the "gentleman"—Jan—was also in the car with Mary last night when he left.
Bigger drives to the train station and leaves the trunk there with a man who gives him a ticket for it. Then he goes back to the Dalton’s.
Entering the house, Bigger wonders if he should go to his room or the kitchen and decides the kitchen is the least guilty-looking option.
While Peggy is preparing his breakfast, Jan phones. Peggy calls him a good-for-nothing.
Bigger has trouble eating, but he forces himself to while Peggy chatters. Bigger has nothing to say to her.
After breakfast, Bigger goes to check the fire again. It didn’t need any more coal. He looks around again to see if there’s any trace of the murder. None.
Bigger goes to his room and lies on the bed, wondering what he should do now or what would happen.
He hears Peggy walk across the kitchen floor. He hears Mrs. Dalton’s voice. He opens the clothes closet and can hear them clearly, but then they stop talking. Maybe they’d heard him. He decides to put his clothes away into the closet so they won’t think he was just snooping.
Mrs. Dalton is questioning Peggy about the car being left out all night and Mary telling Bigger to leave it there.
Mrs. Dalton is worried because Mary didn’t even leave a note. Even when Mary ran away to New York, she left a note.
Peggy tells the mother that Jan was with Mary. Mrs. Dalton wishes those awful people (Communists) would leave Mary alone.
Peggy mentions that Jan called this morning. She’s wondering if Mary is actually with him, like she was in Florida, and if Jan had just called to see if they knew she was gone.
Mrs. Dalton mentions that Mary was in her bed at 2 a.m. Peggy says that her bed looked as if she hadn’t really slept in it, more like she’d lain down for a minute or two and then gotten up.
By now, both women realize there’s something strange about the story. Mrs. Dalton says Mary was drunk last night and she wonders if something has happened to her.
There’s a long silence and then Mrs. Dalton says that she’s just felt around in Mary’s room and the girl never finished packing—at least half her new things for the trip are still there.
Bigger becomes afraid again. But, he thinks he can explain anything away by virtue of the fact that Mary was drunk. He’s wondering if he should have left the trunk in Mary’s room after all? But it was the only way he could have gotten her out of the room without risking someone seeing the body. Well, he has to stick with his story now.
Bigger falls asleep, thinking.
Mrs. Dalton wakes him up at 3 o’clock. She wants to know if he took the trunk to the station. Bigger says he did. He knew he had the protection of her shame—she wouldn’t ask too much.
Mrs. Dalton now asks about the car in the driveway and his taking the trunk downstairs. He realizes he can’t let her think he was alone in the room with Mary, so he says the gentleman was with them as he went to get the trunk.
She looks like a ghost as he goes over these details with her.
As she leaves, he thinks about all the things that make him safe: she’s white and he’s black; she’s old and rich and he’s young and poor; etc.
He decides to go out and see Bessie.
As he waits, the money and the gun and both make him feel safe. But now, Bigger believes he should have planned this so he could get more money. Next time, that’s what he’ll do. (Next time?!)
Bigger thinks of his secret power—knowledge—and he wants to shout out to the world that he killed a rich white girl. He wants to see what that knowledge does to the white people, and see the fear that it gives them.
Bessie gives Bigger a hard time about being with white folks last night. She calls them his "friends," but he insists he just works for them.
She wants to know why he didn’t speak to her last night. Was he ashamed, sitting there with the white girl?
Bigger knows she’s playing a game with him. How badly did he want her? That was her game.
So he kisses her, but Bessie doesn’t respond. She’s still cold because he’s been gone so long.
They argue some more. This time, she responds to his kiss a little. But, she still argues with him about how long he’s been away and about the fact that he didn’t acknowledge her last night when he was with the white folks.
Bigger likes the way Bessie teases him. He likes the game because it makes him want her more. Suddenly, he pulls out his money and says, somebody else might like this money since she doesn’t seem to.
She wants to know where he got all that cash. She’s amazed at how much is there ($125). He won’t tell her where he got it, and though she’s resisting his physical advances less, she worries that he’s "got into" something.
They make love and as they do, Bigger feels the fear and shame that caused him to kill Mary melt away. He feels at home.
Bessie begins to ask questions about his new job. He wonders why she’s asking questions and if she senses anything. Then she says she’s asking because she used to work over near the Loeb family. One of the Loeb boys killed the Franks boy and tried to get money from the Franks family.
Bigger begins to see the possibilities as Bessie talks. He could ask them for money! He could have them pack the money in a shoe box and throw it out of a car on the South Side.
Bessie still wants to know where Bigger got the money. She can sense that something is wrong, that Bigger has something on his mind. Bigger begins to think maybe he can use Bessie, if he can trust her.
Bigger now understands how narrow Bessie’s life is, just like his family’s life. She worked hard seven days a week and only had one afternoon off. When she took that afternoon off each week, she wanted hard, fast fun. That’s why he likes her. All he needs to do is give the girl liquor and he can get laid. She likes him because he gives her money for alcohol.
They leave to get drinks. As they go, Bigger wishes they were back in bed, but things have changed now. Bessie isn’t easy like she was; her face is hard and unyielding.
Bigger realizes there are two Bessies: one is a body that he can have sex with, and the other is a real human being with feelings and desires and questions and needs. He wants to kill the second Bessie so he can always have the sex Bessie whenever he wants her.
They go to the Paris Grill and Bigger orders sloe gin fizzes. He decides to let her in on some details to see if she’ll help him out.
Bessie starts to bother him about trusting her with whatever it is that’s on his mind. He tests her, letting her know that he’s got something big going on that could mean a lot of money.
She gets mad and wants to go home.
Bigger wants to know if she’d help him if he split the money. The only catch is that he’s going to have to leave town. Bessie says she could go with him. He hadn’t thought of that option.
He decides to tell her things that will help him if she’s ever questioned by the police. So he tells her that Mary has run off with a Red. So he took the money from her room last night. Her parents don’t know where she is. That means, they might think she’s been kidnapped. He could make them think she’s been kidnapped and get money from them.
Bessie wants to know what happens if Mary shows up? Bigger says she won’t and Bessie says he knows something about that girl, something he’s not telling. And she’s worried about being careful. The ransom could show up in the papers and then the girl will show up.
Bigger says Mary Dalton won’t show up. Then Bessie asks if he’s done something to that girl.
Now Bigger is afraid. He wants a weapon in his hand, something solid to protect himself with. He threatens violence if Bessie says anything like that again.
She’s not sure she wants to help because she’s afraid they’ll get caught. Bigger tries to reassure her that they’ll have all the bases covered so they can’t get caught. The Daltons won’t want anything to happen to the girl, so they won’t send the police. And the two of them can go to New York and lay low because they’ll have money.
Bessie still doesn’t know. Bigger is sure he could press her hard enough to do it with him.
He gives Bessie most of Mary’s money and tells her to use it to buy herself something, but to save the rest for him. She hesitates but finally takes the money.
At her door, he asks Bessie again what she thinks and she says she still doesn’t know.
Bigger reminds her that she wanted him to trust her. She responds that they’ve never done anything like this before. It isn’t the same thing as just stealing.
Bigger tries to convince Bessie but finally, she says she isn’t going to do it. They say goodbye.
As he turns away, though, Bessie runs back to him. All around them is the snow. Her eyes are fearful and distrustful as she looks at him. He waits to see if she’ll say yes or no.
Bigger knows the girl is wondering how much she means to him. She squeezes his hand to let him know she wants him. Then she tries one more time to say no. He says goodbye again.
Bessie calls Bigger again.
She looks helpless and he enjoys seeing her like this. He asks again if she’ll help. Bessie starts to cry, saying that she’ll only do it because he wants her to. He knows now that she’s in.
Bigger reassures the scared woman that there are plenty of places for them to hide if they need them. Then he leaves.
The snow continues to fall as he heads back to the Daltons’ house. Now he feels confident and strong. He feels alive and invincible. He’s no longer overwhelmed with the fear and shame from last night, or the fear of death after knowing he killed Mary. He knows, too, that if Bessie does this with him, she’ll be his forever.
When he reaches the Daltons’, Bigger heads to his room. On his way, he hears Peggy calling him. Mrs. Dalton wants him to go pick up Mary’s trunk at the station. He’s surprised, but she says nobody claimed it and Mr. Dalton had received a wire that Mary never arrived in Detroit.
Peggy comes down to the basement, looking around. Bigger again decides that if she sees anything that makes her suspicious, he’ll kill her with that shovel and then take the car to get away.
Peggy explains that Mrs. Dalton is worried. She’s been phoning Mary’s friends all day.
Mrs. Dalton calls down, saying that she’d like to talk to "the boy." Bigger follows Peggy into the kitchen.
Mrs. Dalton goes over the same questions again: did Mary tell him to take the trunk down like that?
Mr. Dalton shows up and asks some of the same questions, but he also wants to know if Jan was drunk and if in the morning the car was just like it was when Bigger left it the night before.
Mr. and Mrs. Dalton discuss getting a hold of Jan, but Mr. Dalton thinks Mary’s up to another one of her shenanigans.
Bigger goes to the station and picks up Mary’s trunk.
He knows he’s turned the Daltons’ minds to Jan, but realizes he’ll now have to send the ransom note immediately.
Bigger creates a plan. He’ll ask for ten thousand dollars and have Bessie stand in the window of a building near a well-lighted corner. Mr. Dalton will put the money in a shoe box and drop it off at the curb when he sees Bessie blink a flashlight three times in the window. Then Bessie could pick up the money in the shoebox.
Bigger takes the trunk back to the house, wondering if he should just leave town now. In the end, he decides he can handle this.
He takes the trunk downstairs and hears the fire in the furnace. He starts to open the trunk to look inside when he hears his name and whirls around, hand raised, like he expects a blow.
Bigger sees Mr. Dalton and another man in the basement. Mr. Dalton’s companion examines Bigger and asks him what’s the matter. He stares at Bigger and Bigger begins to feel panic, especially as he realizes that this is a policeman.
The police officer smiles at Bigger but it’s "a smile that Bigger did not believe."
Mr. Dalton introduces the policeman as Mr. Britten, a private investigator, who would like to ask Bigger some questions.
Mr. Britten wants to look at the trunk first. Bigger watches as he inspects it but it’s locked. Mr. Britten asks if Bigger has a key but Bigger doesn’t. Mr. Dalton gives Mr. Britten permission to break the lock and tells Bigger to get the hatchet (uh-oh).
Bigger says "Yessuh," wondering if he should say the hatchet is somewhere else in the house and take the opportunity to run away? But they don’t seem suspicious so he decides to lie his way out of this one. He looks around for the hatchet, then says it doesn’t seem to be here.
Britten thinks he can manage without the hatchet. He kicks the lock and looks inside. Everything inside is a mess and it’s only half full.
Mr. Dalton wants to know if the trunk was locked when he took it down. Bigger says yes. Mr. Dalton then asks if she was too drunk to know what she was doing. Bigger just repeats his story that "they"—Mary and Jan—went into the room, he went in after, etc.
Britten tells Bigger to sit down and the private investigator starts questioning him. What time did he take Miss Dalton from here last night? Bigger knows now that he’s going to be examined. He has to reveal each detail as if he doesn’t know its significance.
As Bigger reveals that he didn’t take Miss Dalton to the university last night, he pretends to be ashamed. Mr. Dalton is shocked. Bigger says he took Mary to the Loop, to Lake Street. Then Jan came out and wanted to drive, so Bigger let him.
Bigger is excited. He finally has control of the story he tells these white folks. They can’t make him reveal anything he doesn’t want to reveal.
He tells them how he took them to Ernie’s Kitchen Shack and how Jan made him eat with them and talked about Communism. The two got pretty drunk. He drove them through the park and then they came here. They had to help Miss Dalton up the steps because she was pretty drunk. She passed out, she was so drunk.
Mr. Britten says that if what Bigger says is true, Miss Dalton couldn’t have left this house by herself.
Then Bigger lies that Jan told him to take Mary’s trunk down and not to put the car in the garage. Bigger says that Jan was drunk too.
Mr. Britten wants to know what Jan said about the Party. Then he starts questioning Bigger as if Bigger is a Communist.
Bigger didn’t expect this. He gets nervous. Mr. Britten slams Bigger’s head against the wall and continues to accuse him of being a Communist, especially because he found the pamphlets in Bigger’s room.
Bigger protests that Jan gave him the pamphlets and Mr. Dalton finally steps in and says he thinks Bigger’s telling the truth.
Bigger realizes now that Britten is his enemy. In Britten’s mind, Bigger is guilty because he’s black. He wants to kill Britten now. But he controls himself.
Britten and Mr. Dalton discuss getting a hold of Jan now. Britten wants to be sure Bigger is telling the truth and Mr. Dalton once again vouches for him.
Bigger goes to his room and Mr. Dalton and Britten head upstairs. Bigger listens to their conversation through the closet. They’re discussing him and Dalton’s sorry that Britten was so rough. Britten says you have to treat blacks that way to get information from them. Dalton says it wasn’t really Bigger’s fault—it was his crazy daughter’s. Then they discuss keeping this scandal out of the newspapers and about seeing Jan.
Bigger looks at his room and sees that Britten had searched his clothes and things.
Bigger wonders what Jan will say when the private investigator questions him.
He looks out at the snow falling outside the window and thinks again of the ransom note. He should work fast and use gloves. Because he could still escape if he wanted to, Bigger feels a sense of power.
As he thinks about Britten, he begins to desire another confrontation, to test Britten’s abilities to get something from him again. He would do better next time, he thinks. Britten probably will want him as a witness against Jan so, after he lulls them into security thinking they have the man, he can send the ransom note.
Bigger stretches out and takes a nap. While sleeping, he hears a church bell tolling and he begins to feel a need to run and hide.
Then he’s standing on a street corner with a heavy package and he wants to know what’s inside the package so he unwraps it. Inside is his own head. He starts to run to get away but he runs into white people who have questions for him about the severed head. He tries to run but finally gives up and curses them and throws his head squarely in their faces.
Bigger wakes up from the dream and hears the bell ringing. He realizes that it’s the bell calling for his services.
He opens the door but Britten pushes his way in the room as the door opens. Mr. Dalton and Jan are also with him.
Jan comes inside and Britten produces the Communist pamphlets. Jan says they should get this over with, but Britten assures Jan that they’ve got plenty of time.
Britten asks Bigger if this was the man Miss Dalton brought home last night. Bigger whispers, "Yessuh."
Bigger hates Jan because he knows he’s hurting him—and Jan is giving him a look like he can’t believe Bigger’s lying.
Jan confronts Bigger and asks why he’s lying.
Bigger decides he’ll only talk to Mr. Dalton or Britten.
Jan wants to know why Britten’s making "this boy" (Bigger) lie.
Britten asks Jan where Miss Dalton is. When Jan says she’s in Detroit, Britten suggests that Jan has his story memorized.
Jan tells Bigger not to be afraid to speak up.
When Britten asks Jan if he saw Miss Dalton last night, Jan says no. Then he finally admits he did see Mary, but Mr. Dalton doesn’t like Reds so he didn’t want to get Miss Dalton in trouble.
When Britten continues asking questions, Jan lies that he brought Mary home around two. But he’s clearly confused when Britten asks if he told Bigger to take Miss Dalton’s trunk down to the basement.
Jan was trying to protect Mary by lying, but now he’s beginning to realize there’s a bigger (or Bigger) problem. So he finally says he didn’t come home with Mary or to take the trunk down. Then he asks Bigger to confirm the story, but Bigger remains silent.
Britten points out that Jan keeps changing his story. Jan says the joke’s over and he’s going home.
That’s when Mr. Dalton steps in. He says he just wants to know where his daughter is. Jan says he doesn’t know.
Mr. Dalton tells Jan that he’ll make it worth his while, but Jan just gets red in the face. He starts to call Mr. Dalton a son of a bitch, but stops and walks to the door instead.
Mr. Dalton looks at Bigger like he suspects something. He asks Bigger if he’s telling the truth in all this and Bigger says yes. Britten says Bigger’s all right and they should have Jan picked up for questioning.
The two white men leave. Bigger goes out and looks at the furnace, then he goes to the driveway and looks at the snow. He realizes he needs to see Bessie right away and get her to send the ransom note.
As Bigger hurries towards Bessie’s place, Jan comes out of a store and calls him over. He wants to know what the deal is and where Mary is.
Bigger feels guilty around Jan, but he keeps the game up. He tells Jan he doesn’t want to talk to him. He thinks that if Jan continues to stand there and make him feel so guilty, he’ll have to shoot him.
Bigger tells Jan to go away.
When Jan says they should go have a cup of coffee somewhere, Bigger pulls a gun. He starts screeching at Jan to leave him alone.
So Jan walks rapidly away, as any sane person would. Bigger stands in the snow, gun out, until a white woman sees him and flees.
Determined now, Bigger goes to a drugstore and asks for an envelope, some paper, and a pencil. He pays for it, then gets on a streetcar.
As he heads to the South Side, he thinks about what kind of note he should write. He starts examining buildings to see which one would be a good place for Bessie to stand. Realizing he’s forgotten something, he goes into another drugstore to buy a flashlight.
Then he sees a building owned by the South Side Real Estate Company, the company he thinks Mr. Dalton owns. This is the company that owns his rat-infested apartment.
Until Bigger came to work for Mr. Dalton, he’d never seen the owner of the company that owned his apartment. Even though Mr. Dalton hires blacks and sends millions of dollars for black education, he still only rents to black people in this part of the world—and rat-infested apartments, too! Yes, he decides, he’ll send that note.
Before he even sees her, he gets angry with Bessie, thinking she’s probably drunk. And indeed, when she opens the door, her eyes are red.
Bigger acts angry with her, commanding her to let him in, turn on the light, and pull down the shades. They fight over his plan and he insists she help him.
When he needs to sharpen his pencil and he asks her for a knife, Bessie wants to know what happened to his knife. He remembers his knife, crusted over with Mary’s blood.
Throughout the process of writing the note, Bessie tries to reason with Bigger.
With anger and determination, Bigger writes his ransom note and signs it "Red." He draws a hammer and a curving knife but knows it doesn’t look right until he realizes he’s left the handle off the knife.
Bigger reads the note over and realizes he’s forgotten to mention the time to bring the money, so he adds a P.S. to bring the money at midnight.
Bessie wants to know again where Miss Dalton is. When Bigger insists he doesn’t know, she asks him if he killed her. When he doesn’t answer, Bessie start sobbing.
Bigger looks at the note shaking in his trembling fingers, but he reassures himself that he isn’t scared.
He tries to convince Bessie to play her part but she says no. If he killed that girl, then he’ll kill her, too.
Bigger realizes she knows too much. He wonders if he needs to kill her. He tells Bessie that if she isn’t in this for life, then she’ll tell on him. She says she won’t.
Bigger admits he killed the girl, but he insists that Bessie is in it as deep as he is because she spent some of the money already.
He forces Bessie to drink, but doesn’t want her too drunk because he needs her sober enough to do a good job on the ransom plan.
Bessie begs Bigger to leave her alone and not to make her do this. Finally, Bigger threatens to kill her if she doesn’t join him.
So the two of them leave Bessie’s place so he can show her what to do.
Bessie keeps begging him not to make her do this, but he’s cold and insistent.
He takes her to the empty building. They go inside and up the staircase. Using the flashlight, Bigger can see that rich folks lived in that building at one time. It was like the Daltons’ house.
Bigger remembers that when blacks first started moving into the South Side, whites had bombed houses like this.
When Bigger realizes he’s alone, he bounds back until he finds Bessie, crouched against a wall, sobbing. She tells him she’d rather he killed her than make her do this.
Bigger tries to convince her, telling her how it’ll work: at midnight, a car will come along, blinking its lights, and throw out a shoebox full of money. All she needs to do is go get the package and go home, following a circuitous route so that anybody who follows her will get lost.
They argue some more about whether she should do it or not—she clearly doesn’t want to be a part of the ransom scheme. Bigger insists that she’s already in on the crime, so she has to do it.
He takes her to a streetcar, gives her money for the fare, and says goodbye. Then he heads back to the Daltons’ house, gripping the ransom note. When he reaches the house, he slips the note under the door, then turns around and runs away.
He goes to the basement and looks at the fire, wanting to poke around in it, but afraid to. He just pulls the lever for more coal and goes to bed.
In bed, he’s cold and hungry—and he’s getting scared.
Bigger realizes he’s forgotten something important. He goes to the furnace and dumps the gloves, pencil, and paper he used to write the ransom note into the fire.
Then he collapses, feeling weak. Finally he rises, thinking he should go ask for dinner.
Bigger goes to the kitchen and sees food under napkins.
Peggy comes to the kitchen door and tells him that his dinner’s been ready for him since 5 o’clock and he should eat. He sees the ransom note in her hand and can’t concentrate on eating. She pours his coffee while he stares at the letter, then she says she has to take the letter to Mr. Dalton. She leaves.
He’s not hungry, but feels he must eat or he’ll look suspicious. Peggy returns and asks if Bigger’s scared by all the trouble there’s been. He says no.
He realizes that there’s an inevitability to what he’s done now, but he thinks they’ll never suspect a black man. They’ll go after Jan.
As Peggy tells Bigger to be ready in the morning, Mr. Dalton comes dashing in the kitchen, distraught. He wants to know who gave Peggy the letter. She says it was by the door.
Mr. Dalton looks around the room, then at Peggy. Mrs. Dalton comes in the room, trembling. She grips Mr. Dalton and asks him what’s the matter. Then Mr. Dalton reveals that "they’ve" kidnapped Mary.
Bigger stares at them all until Peggy runs from the room, crying.
Mrs. Dalton faints and Mr. Dalton carries her out of the room.
Alone, Bigger contemplates leaving now while he can still escape. But he wants to see the ending, even if it turns out badly for him.
The house is silent. Bigger creeps around the house, listening and hears Mr. Dalton on the phone asking to speak to Britten. Then he says he needs Britten to come right away, but he doesn’t want to talk about it on the phone.
Bigger knows this means another round of questions with Britten. He goes downstairs, sure Britten and Mr. Dalton will never think of looking in the furnace for Mary.
He realizes he can still run away or go upstairs and confess. Knowing he has choices makes him feel curiously free. Still, he’s convinced they will never suspect him, a black man, of killing the rich white girl.
Bigger hears Britten and Mr. Dalton talking about the note. Britten asks Peggy if she saw anybody leave it (no) or if she recognizes the handwriting (no). Then there are more people in the kitchen, sounding like men, and the conversation continues.
This time, the questions are about Bigger—how he acts, whether he seems intelligent or not, and whether he might know about the note. Britten wants to know if Bigger acts like he’s been around Jews or if he’s ever used the word "comrade" or if he seems used to being in the presence of whites. He’s trying to find out if Bigger’s been around Communists.
Bigger smiles, hearing these questions. He realizes that Britten is trying to trap him, but he won’t find anything.
Then Britten talks with the other men. Bigger learns that although Mr. Dalton is pretty upset, he plans to pay the $10,000 ransom for Mary. Britten definitely thinks it’s the Reds trying to scare up some money.
Bigger begins to wonder what would happen if the police picked Jan up and if Jan had an alibi, what would happen then? Why would anybody think Bigger had done it?
Bigger looks out the window and thinks how, if worse comes to worse, he can escape through the window.
He hears footsteps and a knock. A white man tells him that he’s wanted downstairs, so down Bigger goes. As he passes the furnace, he recalls Mary’s severed head once again.
Britten starts going over the story again, first asking if Bigger thinks Jan had anything to do with this, to which Bigger replies, "I don’t know, suh."
The investigator wants to know again what Jan had talked about last night and if he had asked Bigger to join the Communists.
Bigger knows what white people hate to hear from black people, even by whites fighting for black rights such as the Reds in this case. He tells Britten that Jan had said one day there would be no rich or poor folks and no lynching.
Bigger mentions that Mary was crying one time and they want to know if Jan hit her. Bigger says no, Miss Dalton stopped crying when Jan put his arms around her.
They want to know if Jan "lay with" (that’s modest Biblical language for having sex) the girl in the backseat of the car when Bigger drove them around the park. Bigger responds that he doesn’t know, but admits they were lying in the back kissing. And yes, he admits, they were drunk.
The press arrives. They tell Britten that the scandal is in the newspapers; that the Reds say they’re being charged with kidnapping Mary Dalton.
One of the reporters wants to know if Bigger is the man that Jan Erlone said accused him. Britten tells Bigger to keep quiet.
Bigger has never seen media people before and they seem dangerous to him. One of them slips him a bribe to get him to talk, but Bigger gives it back.
Britten announces that Mr. Dalton won’t be seeing members of the press until Tuesday. Bigger knows that means Mr. Dalton plans to pay the ransom.
One of the media men says that Jan believes Mr. Dalton is trying to smear the Communist party to break up Jan and Mary’s relationship. Apparently, Jan also insists that Bigger lied about Jan being in the Dalton house last night.
Britten refuses to comment on anything.
Mr. Dalton appears at the top of the stairs, the ransom note in his hand. The media peppers him with questions, but he answers none of them except Jan’s charge that Bigger had been paid to lie about him. His response: "That’s not true."
But Mr. Dalton does want to say something—he wants to make a statement that will mean life or death to Mary. At that moment, the door behind Mr. Dalton opens and Mrs. Dalton appears and comes to his side.
The white cat comes into the room and leaps onto Bigger’s shoulder. Bigger stays still, feeling as though the cat has pointed him out as Mary’s murderer.
Mr. Dalton lets the media know that he has called and asked that Jan Erlone be released. He also wants to apologize for his arrest.
Mr. Dalton tells the group that his daughter has been kidnapped. Her captors are asking ten thousand dollars for her release. He plans to pay the ransom and he wants the story to say that he does not plan to call the police. He just wants his daughter’s safe return.
He won’t show the press the ransom note because of the detailed instructions, but he wants them to print in the newspaper that he plans to follow those instructions.
One of the reporters wants to know how the note is signed. Mr. Dalton tells them that it’s signed "Red" and has a drawing of the sickle and hammer on it. But he doesn’t know if the Communists did it. He only wants his daughter returned.
They take pictures for the paper and Bigger knows that there are enough pictures of him now to recognize him in a crowd.
Mr. and Mrs. Dalton leave. Britten leads some of the reporters away to use the phone.
Soon they came back, with Britten. They want to talk to Bigger, of course, but Britten prevents that.
One of the men looks in the fire and Bigger gets nervous. What if he poked around in it and part of Mary wasn’t burned? But he doesn’t.
The men follow Britten up the stairs to go look in Mary’s room. When they’re gone, Bigger picks up the newspaper they left to see what Jan said about him. The newspaper article doesn’t actually quote Jan, though, it merely reports that Mary is missing, believed to be with Jan, and Jan has been picked up by the police.
The picture of Mary makes him think of her severed head. He looks at the furnace and it seems impossible that she’s in it.
The men return and Bigger drops the newspaper on the floor as he had found it. Britten says it’s fine if Bigger tells them what he saw last night.
When they question Bigger, though, he doesn’t say anything but "I don’t know" to their questions. The men question Bigger again—and all the answers point to Jan.
Finally, the media men leave. Bigger knows now that they’ll write stories about Jan trying to convert him to Communism, Mary and Jan getting drunk, the half-packed trunk taken to the station, the ransom note. He looks at the fire and realizes he’ll need to shake the ashes out.
A reporter returns to announce that Jan refuses to leave jail. Britten says that proves he’s guilty, but the reporter adds that Jan has a dozen people who will swear that he didn’t come here last night. He also believes that Bigger has been paid to lie and that the whole thing is a stunt to smear the Communists.
Peggy interrupts to invite them up for coffee. The reporters want to know who she is and whether she knows anything, but Britten says she doesn’t. Then they turn to Bigger.
Bigger feels like he needs to defend himself now—after all, Jan is saying he’s lying.
The reporters ask Bigger if Jan talked to him about Communism and Britten interrupts, giving them the pamphlets he found on Bigger’s dresser. The men take pictures of the pamphlets.
The media men start asking him questions, but stop when they ask him if he believes in private property. Bigger is just confused now.
The fire seems to have gone out in the furnace.
Peggy comes downstairs with coffee and a folding table. She sets it up for them to have coffee and they start to drink, continuing to question Bigger about how Jan made him eat with him. They get excited about writing a story about how the Negro wants to be left alone and the Communists won’t. They take another picture of Bigger.
Peggy returns with cream and sugar for the men and tells Bigger that there’s not enough heat upstairs. He needs to clean the ashes out.
Even though the men are standing around, Bigger feels like he needs to do something.
Bigger walks to the door of the furnace and looks inside. He wonders if he can sift the ashes down and make that work until the men leave. He tries, but the air still doesn’t get through.
He lifts the lever for some coal, but the fire doesn’t start blazing.
He looks into the furnace and wonders if he should just leave now. But no, he decides, he still has a chance to get all that money. With more coal, the fire will burn eventually.
Bigger adds even more coal. Instead of catching fire, though, it starts to smoke. The smoke rolls out into the room and everybody is coughing. He realizes he needs to do something about the ashes quickly.
The men start calling out to him to do something about the ashes and he tries but one of the men comes around and takes the shovel from him. As the man deals with the ashes, Bigger considers a violent act towards him.
Finally, the man yells at them to open the door. Wind rushes in and with it Bigger’s realization that the situation is out of his hands.
The man mentions that there’s a lot of ashes in there and Bigger shouldn’t let it get that way. He clears the air passage and the fire gets going.
But then, with the air clear, the man looks at the ashes near his feet and he calls the men over to look. He sees bone in the ashes. Then the men find an earring.
Everybody’s silent. Bigger feels the way he has always felt: he’s black and has done something wrong. These men are white and they will soon judge him.
As the men look through the ashes, they soon find the hatchet blade. And they whisper that they’ve found the girl.
Bigger tiptoes up the steps and goes to his room. He lifts the window. He runs to the door and locks it, then crawls out the window. He falls into the snow and as he does, he pees all over himself. He looks around, walks, then tries to run.
He knows now that he needs to find Bessie and tell her not to go to that house. Running away feels familiar. He gropes to find the gun and is reassured when he still has it, knowing he might have to use it.
As he heads to Bessie’s, he sees newspapers and reads the headline about the abducted millionaire heiress. Soon, he knows, the newspapers will be telling stories about how the men found Mary’s body and how he, Bigger, was the killer. But for now, he reads these stories.
Bessie’s place looks dark.
He goes into the vestibule and reads the rest of the article, about how the Reds tried to convert him to Communism. He knows that he’ll have no chance of getting the money now. In fact, the South Side will soon swarm with cops looking for him.
He presses Bessie’s doorbell and she buzzes him in. He jumps up the stairs and tells her the plan is off and he’s a hunted man.
She cries, afraid that they’re going to come for her now, too. He thinks to himself that she needs to come with him when he runs.
He asks for the money and then asks what she’s planning to do. She doesn’t answer and he begins to grow tired.
Bessie tells him she’s scared and Bigger begins to tell her the story of how he happened to kill Mary.
Bessie points out that they’ll say Bigger raped the girl. Until this moment, Bigger hasn’t even thought of that possibility but now he realizes she’s right. He also begins to realize that what white people had done to him every day of his life—that was rape, too.
Bessie’s upset and Bigger doesn’t know what to do with her. He doesn’t want to leave her behind, but she’s clearly going to be a burden if he takes her. So he decides he has to take her with him for now and "settle things" in the future so he won’t be in danger.
Bessie speaks about how she’s struggled all her life. She wishes she had never met Bigger. Now she sees that he’s brought nothing to her life but alcohol so he could sleep with her. Now she has to run away with him and she knows he doesn’t even really care about her.
At this moment, Bigger knows that he can’t leave Bessie behind and he can’t take her with him either. So now he knows what he has to do.
He drags her out the door with him and she follows, stumbling and crying. He gets his gun and puts it in his pocket, knowing he might need to use it at any moment now. He tells Bessie to drink a swig of alcohol and then they leave.
They go to an empty building and he pulls her inside. He commands her to unroll bedclothes on the floor and he places two pillows near the window.
He turns back to see that Bessie hasn’t moved, so he goes over to her and takes her bottle and finishes it. He smokes a cigarette and tells Bessie to come lie down.
At last, they’re lying on the pallet together. Though the building might collapse, at least he’s safe from the police.
He starts to kiss her until she responds but when he makes moves for more, she protests.
Bigger grips her tightly until he hears a sigh of surrender. He begins to grope Bessie until she pleads again that he leave her alone. But now he wants what he wants, even though she’s pushing him away. He rapes her.
Then he lies next to her, waiting for her to fall asleep. He thinks about his situation, and how he can’t take her or leave her behind.
Using his flashlight, he sees a brick and he decides what he’s going to do.
He lifts the brick above her and then realizes no, he can’t do this. Then he decides he must. He lifts the brick and smashes it in her chest, hearing her moan. Then he does it again and again, how long he doesn’t know, but when he stops, Bessie is dead.
Then he wonders, what does Bessie look like? Is she staring at him with accusation in her dead eyes? So he looks at her – she’s limp and bloody.
Bigger doesn’t want to leave her in the open, so he hoists her into an airshaft. Then he throws the bloody bedclothes and pillows after her.
Then he suddenly remembers that Bessie had the money in her pocket. Should he go get it? He leaves the room he was in and goes into another room, spreading quilts on the floor and lying in them.
He can’t sleep.
Bigger still feels a sense of power because he had done all these things. He thinks about why he did what he did. He’s not even sure. He just knows he has always felt trapped, and that he hates his mother, who was kind of like Bessie, if you replaced "whiskey" with "religion."
Bigger gets up and looks out the window at the snow on the street.
He goes to the first floor and looks outside. Could he steal a newspaper? Could he hide? He goes outside and sees the headline: HUNT BLACK IN GIRL’S DEATH. He looks for a place to hide.
Then he goes back to the store and grabs a paper from a man smoking. He races down an alley and then lets himself into a building through a window. Then he reads the newspaper article.
When he gets to the part where police say they suspect it was a sex crime, Bigger feels his hand itch for a gun. The article continues, saying that Bigger’s house has been searched. White parents had begged for their schools to be closed and hundreds of blacks had been fired from their jobs.
Police also still suspect that Jan may have played a part in the whole affair. That makes Bigger want to go out, find a policeman, and say he did the entire thing by himself, without Jan’s help.
Bigger goes outside and sees two black men talking over a newspaper at the store he’d just been in. They’re talking about him.
He suddenly realizes he’s been crouching in the snow so long, his legs have grown numb.
He sees a man and woman making love, while three children watch, and he remembers how he used to do that when he was younger and his mother and father made love in the morning in their small, one-room apartment.
Bigger tramps through the snow-covered streets, looking for a place to hide.
He passes a bakery and, thinking of his empty stomach, wants to go in and buy something with the seven cents he has left. The only problem is that the proprietor is white and Bigger is afraid that he’ll be recognized.
Bigger decides to go in anyway—he’s starving. Inside, the proprietor doesn’t pay any attention to him so Bigger buys a nickel loaf of bread, then goes to find a place to hide.
He finds an empty apartment and goes inside. Then he hears voices and realizes somebody’s arguing with somebody else in the front apartment.
He hears a voice ask a "Jack" if he’d really give up "tha’ nigger" to the white folks? Maybe Bigger is innocent. You know, he adds, how the police think every black man looks guilty if one of them’s done a crime.
Jack responds, telling "Jim" that Bigger Thomas actually does start trouble. And because of Bigger, he lost his own job.
Bigger takes out his gun, deciding he’ll use it if he has to. He drinks some water, eats some bread, and stretches out on the floor to catch some shut-eye.
As he sleeps, Bigger becomes aware of a beat that creates images in his head. He sees hundreds of black men and women beating drums with their fingers.
He wakes up and goes to the window. There he sees a church, where men and women sing and clap and pray. The songs and prayers, among them "Steal away to Jesus," make him feel sorrow. He wished he could live in the world of the song—a world of wealth and plenty and fullness.
Bigger leaves the empty apartment and heads down the streets of Chicago’s South Side.
He buys a paper and ducks into another empty apartment. Almost caught by a woman in another apartment, he realizes he would have had to kill her and her female companion if she’d seen him.
Inside the empty apartment he reads the newspaper by the light of a match. The article reports that the police have raided 1,000 black homes but failed to find Bigger. The most relevant fact for Bigger is that 8,000 men are out looking for him. 8,000!
He checks outside to see if they’re near and hears a siren, then a man whispers, "They’s comin’!"
Bigger knows the police are almost there and decides that the safest place is the roof. Up he goes, through the trapdoor onto the roof.
Bigger listens to shouts and screams. As he hides, he knows they’re coming and it’s just a matter of time before they find him. He thinks about how he can jump from roof to roof if necessary.
He watches as one of the searchers comes up to the next roof and searches with a flashlight. He misses Bigger.
Bigger waits. He hears pounding feet below. They’re coming and he’s torn about what he should do. They’re directly underneath the trapdoor.
He listens to their conversation about how good-looking one of the black women in the apartments below is. Why would Bigger want to kill a white woman when black women are so beautiful?
Bigger holds the gun and waits for the trapdoor to open. A man comes out of it and stands with his back to Bigger.
Suddenly, Bigger thinks he could hit this man. He switches the gun so it’s a weapon he can hit with. He raises his arm and then smashes the man on the skull until he falls down.
The sirens begin again as he stares at the man. Then he sees a man crawling up on the roof to the left and he hears someone below him call out, "Jerry?"
Bigger takes a chance and crawls to another roof. He looks behind him as he hears the voice calling for Jerry grow louder. Men come up to see what Bigger’s done and give orders to surround the block—he’s somewhere close by.
Bigger begins to crawl from roof to roof. At last, he hears the men yelling that they see him. Then a shot rings over his head. As he goes, he looks behind him and sees a man running after him. Bigger reaches the last roof. He can’t go any further. But he sees a water tank on the roof, with a ladder, so he climbs up the ladder. He lies flat on his stomach and watches as the men come up.
He tries to shoot one of them and misses. He tries again when he sees a man running toward the water tank. Again, he misses.
The men start throwing tear gas up on the water tank. He knocks the first one off but then another and another come except the wind blows the gas away.
One man tries climbing the water tank, but Bigger hits the guy’s fingers with the butt of his gun and the man falls back. Finally, somebody tells him he’s surrounded and he might as well give up.
Bigger knows they’re afraid. He also knows he’ll be caught or killed, one or the other, soon, but he’s not afraid.
He hears them yell to hurry up with the hose but he doesn’t know what they mean. The trapdoor opens and somebody yells that it’s his last chance. He lays still until the stream of water hits and he realizes what they’re doing: trying to coax him out with force.
The water hits him and takes his breath away with the pain. He’s freezing and, as they yell at him to throw down his gun, he lets go of it and gives up.
The men keep yelling at him to throw down the gun but he doesn’t have enough strength to do it. He tries but his fingers are stiff and frozen. He can’t do it.
The water hits him again and he can’t hold on. So he falls over the edge of the tank onto the roof below, face-first.
They drop him through the trapdoor, then drag him by his feet, down the hall, down the stairs, his head bumping on each stair as they go.
Bigger tries to protect his head with his arms but soon he has no strength left.
Outside, he’s dragged into the snow to shouts of "lynch him" and "kill him!"
His captors stretch his arms out and put a foot on each of his wrists.