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Summary

Native Son Book Three: Fate Summary Page 1

  • During the next three days, Bigger loses sense of time.
  • Bigger refuses to speak. He refuses to eat. He doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t even drink water. He goes where he’s told and doesn’t resist. His crime is gone from his head – he doesn’t think about any of it.
  • Having failed, he refuses to struggle any more. The desire to kill is still in him, but now he wants to kill himself. Or at least kill that internal part of himself that allowed him to rise up and kill others.
  • Bigger is still afraid of death. Fear of death is in his gut. He’s afraid without being able to do anything about it.
  • One day, some men come and take him to a large room with lots of people there. With the large audience all excited and taking pictures, he can’t pretend to be indifferent.
  • As he looks around at all the people, he realizes that they’ve decided he shall die. He’s part of the black world that they’ve feared and controlled.
  • As they unshackle him, Bigger realizes that Mrs. Dalton is before him and Mr. Dalton is next to him.
  • Bigger remembers the fear he felt when he was in the bedroom with Mary and Mrs. Dalton was there.
  • He sees Jan and feels both shame and anger as he remembers lying.
  • Bigger becomes tired and then he faints.
  • He wakes up. Someone is giving him something to drink – milk. They ask if he wants something to eat, but when he doesn’t answer, they push him back on to the cot and mention that he has to face the crowd again that afternoon at the inquest.
  • He realizes suddenly that he’s conscious again: he’s "come out into the world again." He’s done it because he feels they have no right to gawk and stare at him, to use him however they want.
  • A policeman brings food and Bigger eats, fast because it tastes so good. Then he smokes and sleeps.
  • When he wakes, he asks the policeman for a newspaper. He wants to know what the public is saying now about the crime. He sees the newspaper article headline: NEGRO RAPIST FAINTS AT INQUEST.
  • He reads the article, which is full of comments that suggest he’s not fully human and that the death penalty is the only solution. He realizes he will die and he doesn’t want to meet more hate, but he knows he can’t go back to the indifference that carried him through the last few days.
  • Bigger sleeps. When he wakes, he sees Reverend Hammond, his mother’s pastor, standing in front of him. He tries to get back to that place of indifference because he’s afraid of what he’ll feel in the reverend’s presence.
  • The preacher lets him know that his mother wants to see him, too.
  • Reverend Hammond he kneels and prays to "Lawd Jesus" to bring mercy, to forgive Bigger his sins, and to be with him during the "dark days" ahead.
  • Bigger hates these words, spoken in love; they make him feel condemned in just the same way as the words of those who hate him.
  • Reverend Hammond finishes praying and tells Bigger to forget everything but his soul. God looks past your skin, he says, and looks only at your heart.
  • Bigger listens to the words and remembers the lessons his mother taught him as a child; he sees images that had always helped him through life. He remembers the story of Genesis, of creation, of the command not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.
  • Bigger realizes the preacher believes that his guilt is deeper even than Mary’s death. His first murder had been the moment he killed the picture of life that the preacher had given him and was giving him now. Why now did this image have to come before him to taunt him?
  • The preacher continues talking about how man fell from light to darkness when he ate of the Tree of Knowledge and finally God drove humans from the Garden of Eden. Because people prayed for thousands of years that that curse be lifted, God sent Jesus to show the way. He lived, died, and was resurrected, so Jesus’s death was a victory.
  • The Reverend says love will save Bigger. Believe in God and you will have eternal life.
  • Bigger says nothing as the Reverend Hammond entreats him. He feels like he’ll jump up and kill preacher if he doesn’t stop hassling him.
  • The preacher takes out a small wooden cross. He says the cross is made from a tree, which represents the world. Nailed to the tree is a suffering man. That, he says, is what life is – suffering. He puts the cross around Bigger’s neck.
  • Then Jan arrives and Bigger jumps to his feet.
  • Why would Jan come? To get his revenge?
  • Jan comes towards him and Bigger sits, knowing Jan can’t harm him here in this cell.
  • Jan starts to talk and he says it’s taken him awhile to get his life back together but he wants to say something. He understands what Bigger must be feeling. He can understand and he doesn’t blame Bigger for trying to shove the blame on him instead.
  • Jan says that maybe he really is the one who’s guilty. He didn’t know how far apart they really were, and he understands why Bigger pulled his gun on him when he confronted him. What else could he do?
  • Bigger is confused.
  • Reverend Hammond comes forward and he and Jan talk briefly. Then Jan continues talking to Bigger. He realizes, he says, that Bigger has a right to hate him.
  • Jan even goes so far as to say that he feels he should be in jail for murder, not Bigger, but he can’t take the guilt of 100 million men on himself.
  • Jan confesses that he loved Mary, and he was in jail grieving over her, he realized that there have been so many more black men who have been killed. At first, he says, he hated Bigger and wanted revenge. But then he realized somebody has to stop this cycle. So if Bigger will let him help, he’ll help.
  • Reverend Hammond blesses Jan.
  • Jan lights another cigarette and offers one to Bigger, but Bigger ignores him. He doesn’t know what to think about what Jan’s saying.
  • Jan says he can stand on Bigger’s side and get him a lawyer.
  • Bigger looks at Jan’s face and realizes that Jan isn’t holding him responsible. And suddenly he feels an even heavier guilt. For the first time in his life, a white is standing before him and is human.
  • Bigger begins to feel sorry for what he did.
  • The preacher speaks his opposition, saying that what Bigger needs is understanding. Jan agrees but says Bigger has to fight for it. The reverend insists that Jan’s plan will stir up more hate and only God can change men’s hearts.
  • Jan reaches out to Bigger again and asks if he’ll allow the lawyer to help him.
  • Bigger says it’s useless. Jan brings his lawyer friend in anyway.
  • Max introduces himself, saying he’s from the Labor Defenders. He’d like to represent Bigger. When Bigger says he has no money, Max tells him not to worry about it.
  • Then another white man hurries in. Bigger recognizes his face from billboards – it’s Buckley, a lawyer.
  • Buckley accuses Max of butting in. Max says that Bigger is his client, and his client won’t sign a confession.
  • Buckley says he doesn’t need a confession because he has enough evidence to kill Bigger a dozen times over.
  • Max tells Bigger not to let Buckley scare him.
  • Then Max and Buckley have a little political wrangle. Max accuses Buckley of wanting to get Bigger killed before the April elections. Buckley’s comeback is that Max defends scum.
  • Max says he’s not defending what Bigger did. Rather, he believes that white men made Bigger what he is. That’s why Max decided to take the case.
  • Buckley strides over to Bigger and asks him if he knows who he’s talking to. Jan and Max suddenly seem small and unimportant. Buckley tells Bigger that he’s been caught so he might as well talk.
  • Max jumps in and says that he and Bigger will decide that together. Buckley laughs and says that a person can’t cross the Daltons and win. To prove his point, Buckley ushers the Daltons into the room.
  • Mr. Dalton wants to know if Bigger has revealed his accomplices. He also lets Bigger know that he’s a fool for hiding his helpers’ identities. Bigger doesn’t answer.
  • The Reverend goes over to shake Mr. Dalton’s hand and says something about how this never should have happened to a man as good as Mr. Dalton.
  • Mr. Dalton claims he’s not bitter; even that morning, he’d sent a dozen ping-pong tables over to the South Side Boys’ Club.
  • Max asks Mr. Dalton if he thinks that ping-pong will keep people from murdering. He says that black people want to live meaningful lives.
  • Bigger’s family arrives. The last thing Bigger wants is for his family to come now, when all these people are here. But in they come.
  • His mother runs to him, crying.
  • With everybody gathered there, and Jack, G.H., and Gus at the door, Bigger feels ashamed and judged.
  • His mother weeps that the police follow them everywhere they go. Buddy tells him that if he didn’t do it, to let him know, and he’d take a gun and go fix the guys.
  • Bigger wants to comfort them but with all the white people around, he doesn’t know how. He feels shame, hate, and rage. He also realizes that no matter what he says, he can’t do anything to comfort them.
  • Bigger tells his mother not to worry, he’ll be out of there in no time.
  • Everybody—his mother, the white faces—all stare at him in surprise. Bigger just looks defiant. Bigger knows Buddy is the only one who believes him. His crying mother just asks him if there’s anything they can do.
  • Bigger knows his gesture was stupid and that there isn’t anything they can do for him. After all, they live on public charity. So he just says he’s fine.
  • Vera cries and Bigger wishes she hadn’t come. He feels all the shame and hate and despair that he’s always managed to keep at bay by not being kind and loving to them – and now he can’t help but feel it.
  • Jack tells Bigger he’s sorry. G.H. tells him that they were picked up too, but Mr. Erlone and Mr. Max got them out of jail. Gus asks if there’s anything they can do. Bigger replies that they can go help his Ma home when they leave.
  • Bigger asks Vera how the sewing classes are going. Ma replies that Vera doesn’t go to class anymore because the other girls give her looks and she feels ashamed. That’s when Bigger realizes that it had been an illusion that he acted and suffered alone.
  • His mother says she’s praying for him and that’s all she can do. She hopes Bigger will turn to God now. Bigger tells her to forget him, but she insists that she can’t.
  • Bigger’s mom continues to preach to him about heaven, the place where they can meet up again for all eternity.
  • Something inside Bigger tells him it’s all a lie, everything she’s saying. He’ll never see her after he’s killed. To give her hope, he says he’ll pray.
  • Everybody’s happy he says this and they hug him. His mother prays.
  • As Ma gets ready to leave, she realizes that Mrs. Dalton is in the room. She runs over and kneels at Mrs. Dalton’s feet and begs her not to let them kill her boy or make them move out of their house, which the Daltons own.
  • Mrs. Dalton touches his mother’s face and says she did all she could do when she brought Bigger to her house. It’s too late for her to do anything now.
  • Next she crawls on the floor to Mr. Dalton and begs him, too. Max helps her to her feet, while Bigger feels shame again.
  • Mr. Dalton says most things are out of his hands, but he’ll tell them not to make her move.
  • The family leaves with Bigger’s friends. Then everybody leaves except Buckley, who stands over Bigger and chides him for the trouble he’s caused. Then he leads Bigger to a window and shows him the crowd below, all wanting to lynch him.
  • Buckley says that they’ll try to keep the mob out, but that the crowd just keeps getting bigger.
  • They go back to the jail and Buckley tries to press Bigger to tell him more, especially whether Jan was involved in the murder.
  • Then Buckley asks where Bessie is. When Bigger looks surprised, Buckley tells him that she was still alive when Bigger threw her down the airshaft. She tried to get out, but froze to death in the end. There was a letter in her purse saying she didn’t want to be part of the ransom note scheme.
  • Next Buckley asks about the woman he raped and choked over on University Avenue. Bigger wonders if the slick lawyer really thinks he’d done the other killings.
  • Buckley begins bringing up other incidents that they know Bigger did. Bigger says he doesn’t know anything about these other attacks. Buckley persists, and Bigger denies it – including Jan’s involvement.
  • Then Buckley surprises Bigger by asking him why they didn’t rob Blum’s store last week like his gang had planned. So Bigger decides to go ahead and confess. It’s obvious they still think Jan’s part of the scheme, and they still think Bigger had raped Mary.
  • Bigger realizes that he can’t explain why he killed Mary because the explanation would require that he tell about his entire life.
  • Then Buckley says Bigger thinks he can’t get a square deal because he’s "colored."
  • Another white man arrives, with paper and pen, to take down Bigger’s confession. Bigger answers Buckley’s questions and then signs the paper. The two white men smile at each other and comment how easy that was. Then they leave.
  • Alone, Bigger wonders how he got here, trapped and alone.
  • Bigger weeps as he lays on the cell floor. He realizes his problem is his need to have others understand his feelings. Why does he need that?
  • Four policemen come back and escort him to the inquest.
  • As he’s led through the crowd, he hears the angry shouts. Somebody slugs him and he passes out.
  • When Bigger comes to, he sees the judge and policemen trying to restore order to the court. At the front of the room, he sees a pile of white bones, the ransom note, the trunk, the hatchet blade, and the signed confession.
  • Mrs. Dalton speaks first, telling the history of the family.
  • The coroner asks Mrs. Dalton to feel the metal earring found with Mary’s ashes to identify it so they can ascertain that the body is, indeed, Mary’s. Mrs. Dalton cries as she identifies the earring. The earrings were heirlooms, one of a kind. She’d recognize them anywhere.
  • Then he asks Mrs. Dalton to describe what happened early Sunday morning. Mrs. Dalton walks him through her visit to Mary’s room and her realization that Mary was drunk. She describes how she found the bed the next morning and Mary’s clothes that she should have packed.
  • The coroner asks the jury to declare whether they can try this case impartially. They all say they can. There’s no objection from the court, so the jurors view the remains, then return to their seats.
  • Then the coroner calls Jan Erlone to the stand. Bigger wonders if he really can trust Jan.
  • As the coroner questions Jan, it’s clear that people still think Jan is guilty, especially when Jan is asked if he had ever used Miss Dalton as "bait" before.
  • With a yes or no answer as the only allowed answer, Jan has no choice but to admit that he was using Miss Dalton as bait. Max objects, but the coroner says Max can’t regulate the questions asked here.
  • The coroner continues to question Jan about his relationship with Miss Dalton and with Bigger, insinuating that Jan encouraged them to have sexual relations. When Jan attempts to explain something, the coroner insists that they’ll have no Communist explanations in this courtroom.
  • At some point, Jan points out that the coroner is trying to "indict a race of people and a political party," not establish a motive for murder.
  • The coroner continues to question Jan, trying to create an image for the jury that Jan had gotten Mary and Bigger drunk, had satisfied himself with Mary, and then left them alone, with no care whatsoever to the fact that Mary might be vulnerable. Or possibly, it’s suggested, Jan left with the idea that it might even be a good idea for her to have sex with a black man.
  • Then Mr. Dalton is questioned, who explains how he hired Bigger, how he received the kidnap note, how he realized Bigger’s guilt when Bigger fled.
  • Max also questions Mr. Dalton, establishing the fact that blacks pay higher rent than whites for houses he indirectly owns through stock.
  • Max asks Mr. Dalton why, if he gives millions to blacks for their education, does he charge an exorbitant rent for a rat-infested apartment for one black family? The coroner objects but Max says if the coroner can question with impunity, so can he.
  • Max continues to question, establishing the fact that Mr. Dalton believes in segregation because it’s profitable. Keeping blacks in one small area where there’s a housing shortage allows him to charge such high rents.
  • Bigger is finally called, but Max states that Mr. Thomas doesn’t wish to testify here.
  • The coroner calls to notice one more piece of evidence – Bessie’s body.
  • Max objects, stating that this only serves to incite mob violence, especially since Bigger Thomas’s confession should be sufficient for the court’s purpose of justice.
  • The coroner says that if Max continues to be disruptive, he will be removed from court.
  • Bigger realizes what’s happening: they are trying to make him out to be a monster. Bessie had not been mentioned in the inquest.
  • The element of surprise gives it even more shock value. He had killed a white girl and a black girl, but he was only being punished for murdering the white girl. This would just seal the deal for the death penalty.
  • Bessie is just "evidence." Nobody cares about a black girl’s death. They wouldn’t have searched for him if he had killed only Bessie. Bigger knows Bessie would resent her body being used this way.
  • The coroner reveals Bessie’s body and the media takes pictures like crazy. Bigger tries not to look, then he buries his face in his hands.
  • The jury retires and the coroner reads from the slip of paper the jury’s recommendation to hold Bigger on a charge of murder.
  • Bigger is taken to a police car through a mob people who are shrieking that the police let them take care of him.
  • The police drive him to Cook County Jail, but they take a circuitous route. First they stop off at the Daltons house, where a crowd of people are lined up.
  • They lead up him to the front door and take him inside, to Mary’s room. The sheriff tells Bigger to take them through what happened that night and not to mind that they take pictures. They say nobody will hurt him.
  • Bigger resists and the man tries to lead him to the bed. Bigger backs against the wall, baring his teeth, and the light bulbs flash. He realizes they’ve taken a picture of him snarling.
  • The sheriff threatens to get tough if Bigger doesn’t talk. He wants Bigger to show how he raped the Dalton girl. Bigger says he didn’t rape Mary.
  • The men threaten to force Bigger to show them how he raped Mary, but Bigger replies that the only thing they can make him do is die.
  • They drop the issue and take Bigger back out to the street and the screaming crowd.
  • Somebody is burning a cross and Bigger thinks about the Reverend talking about the cross in the jail cell. He realizes that white people don’t want him to love Jesus, too. The burning cross makes him want to kill, even while he feels his own cross around his neck.
  • Bigger suddenly realizes that the burning cross is the Ku Klux Klan cross and he feels tricked. He has a cross of salvation around his neck, but before him there’s a cross of racism and hatred and murder.
  • The police put Bigger back into a police car and they take him back to jail.
  • As he’s taken to his cell, Bigger rips the cross from his neck and throws it away, cursing. Though the guards chide him that the necklace is God’s cross and he needs it, Bigger says he doesn’t want it. They leave it inside his cell.
  • When Reverend Hammond comes to see him, Bigger tells him to go away. The Reverend tries to come in anyway, but Bigger smashes the door against the man’s face as he tries to come in.
  • The guard tells Reverend Hammond that he’d better go away. The preacher drops the cross back inside the cell and tells Bigger he’ll leave him with his God now. Then he walks away.
  • Bigger picks up the cross and throws it against the wall.
  • The problem, Bigger realizes, is that the cross gave him a feeling of hope and that was a lie, a trick.
  • He gets up from the floor, hearing a low murmur, and gets on his cot. Somebody comes and gives him some food, saying his lawyer sent it. Bigger asks the man for a newspaper and the guy gives it to him. Bigger ignores the food and reads instead.
  • The newspaper reports that Bigger is guilty for sure. It also reports Buckley as saying what else can you expect from Communists but to defend somebody like Bigger? The Communists should be cleaned out.
  • The guards bring in a screaming black man and dump him in Bigger’s cell. The man keeps screaming at them to bring him his papers. A man from another cell tells Bigger to leave the screaming guy alone because he’s crazy.
  • Bigger’s shame evaporates when faced with this crazy guy – all he feels now is fear.
  • Max arrives. Bigger is handcuffed and led to a room where they talk. Bigger tells his lawyer that fighting is useless and he should stop trying.
  • Max tries to convince Bigger to trust him, even though he’s a white man. He says that Bigger should try to plead for mercy.
  • Bigger finally starts talking, feeling sorry for Max. He realizes Max wants him to talk and he doesn’t want to hurt the guy.
  • Max starts going over the night in question and Bigger admits he felt a little bit like he wanted to be with Mary because they were both drunk. But, when Max asks if he liked Mary, Bigger shouts out that he hated her! He hated her because she made him feel like a dog.
  • When Max asks why Bigger would hate someone who was being kind to him, who was treating him like another human being, Bigger objects. He insists that Mary Dalton treated him like all the other white people treat him. She wasn’t different at all.
  • Bigger tries to explain why he would want to rape Mary when he hated her. Part of it, he thinks, is because he’s always told that’s the way black men are. White people draw a line and tell you to stay on your side—even if you’re starving. So you’re killed before you even started.
  • His reason for killing Bessie? Fear, plain and simple. He was afraid she’d talk.
  • Then he starts explaining how he feels about white folks, how they are like God. They cover everything so you can’t even exist. "They kill you before you die."
  • Max tries to find out what Bigger wanted to do that whites prevented him from doing.
  • Bigger says he wanted to be an aviator but he wasn’t allowed to go to the school where you learn to do that. He wanted to be in the army once, but it’s a Jim Crow army – the only thing blacks in the army are allowed to do is mop floors. He wanted to be in business, but he didn’t have any money. He didn’t want to live where he was told to live.
  • Max points out that Bigger did do something, though – he killed two women.
  • Bigger admits that’s true. He killed those women because he was mad and scared, and for a little while afterwards, he felt free because he’d actually done something.
  • Max tries to find out if the Boys’ Club or if religion had ever helped him. Bigger says neither group gave him anything. The problem with religion is that it’s based on future promises. Bigger wanted to be happy here, on earth, not later.
  • Max asks him if he ever thought about talking to any black leaders, people who are doing things for blacks. Bigger replies that they seem just like white folks to him. They play the political game and pay people to vote, so he doesn’t trust them.
  • Max explains that they’ll enter a plea of not guilty at the arraignment, but for the trial, they’ll plead guilty but ask for mercy.
  • Max hopes to get Bigger a sentence of life in prison instead of the death penalty. But, the situation is difficult because Bigger’s black and people hate him for that simple reason.
  • Max is sure that deep down the white people know that they made Bigger into what he is, and that’s partly why they’re so angry.
  • Back in his jail cell, Bigger feels peaceful and relaxed. He can’t remember the last time he felt this way.
  • Then Bigger switches to feeling angry; Max had tricked him into talking. Bigger stops. No, he had talked to Max of his own free will.
  • Bigger feels conflicted. In order to walk to his death, he needs to be solidly one thing or the other: hopeful or hateful. Otherwise, he’ll constantly be afraid.
  • He wonders if he had betrayed himself by talking to Max so openly. No, Bigger knows he had talked to Max as a man. Still, he doesn’t understand why Max would betray his white race to talk to him. That thought leaves Bigger with hope.
  • Bigger has another impulse, another feeling. It’s a need for there to be no differences among men.
  • Can he trust this feeling? Could he have been so blind all his life, to see the differences instead of what was common and good among all of mankind?
  • Suddenly, Bigger wants to live. Not so he doesn’t have to pay for his crimes, but so he can test out this new frame of mind to see if it’s true and real.
  • Bigger weeps, realizing that he doesn’t want to die.
  • After that night, Bigger is more vulnerable to the "hot blasts of hate." He feels it now. Now that he’s felt hope and life, he’s trapped. He can’t go back. He tries to talk to Max about the feeling, but Max is busy preparing the plea to save Bigger’s life.
  • Bigger’s family visits and he lies to his family that he’s been praying and feels peace. After the family leaves, Bigger tells Max not to let them come again.
  • Minutes before his trial, Bigger receives a newspaper article from Max about how troops have been called in to protect Bigger from a mob.
  • The article quotes a psychologist who says Bigger is probably hiding other crimes. A second quote comes from a professor of psychology who says that black men find white women more sexually alluring than black women.
  • As Max and Bigger go to the trial, Max tells him that he’ll have to stand up to plea guilty. Bigger doesn’t want to do it, but Max tells him he has to. After all, Max has been working hard to save Bigger’s life.
  • Bigger doesn’t think that fighting is worth it – he’s a dead man already. Max tries to give him hope.
  • In the courtroom, Bigger sees his family and his friends.
  • Buckley puts on his theatrics to convince the jury and the crowd that Bigger’s crime was heinous. He incites the crowd such that they yell for Bigger to be lynched.
  • The judge calls for order and Max objects to Buckley’s tactics.
  • Buckley apologizes then enters a plea for the death penalty. He says that if counsel (i.e., Max) continues to insist that Bigger is insane, then he wants a trial by jury.
  • Max objects because Bigger has entered a plea of guilty, not insanity.
  • The judge allows Buckley to continue. Buckley has calls in sixty witnesses. Max again objects; since Bigger has pled guilty, are sixty witnesses really necessary? The Judge decides the court will hear all sixty witnesses.
  • Max speaks at length that Buckley’s only concern here is mob justice. As Bigger’s lawyer, Max’s intention is simply to aim for reduced punishment and wants to use Bigger’s motive as a justification.
  • Buckley isn’t interested in Bigger’s motives. He’s only interested in punishment.
  • The court is let out to deliberate for an hour. When they return, the judge says he will hear the state’s witnesses.
  • Buckley parades in everybody he can find connected to the case – including fourteen newspapermen who were witnesses to the finding of Mary Dalton’s bones and ashes.
  • The next day, Bigger arrives at his table in the court before Max. Bigger instantly realizes what Max has come to mean to him. Without Max, he feels defenseless and exposed. Without Max, who will keep the crowd at bay?
  • Max gives his testimony that day. Max claims to speak not only for Bigger, but for a nation. The people need to understand how Bigger’s fate is linked to their own.
  • According to Max, Bigger stands before the court not as a criminal but as a black criminal – a handicap that had him judged before the trial even began. Max wants the court to understand Bigger’s life, not because that will solve all problems, but because it can begin to change things.
  • Max claims he could not put Bigger’s fate in the hands of a jury who have already decided his guilt. It would be the same as putting Bigger in the hands of the howling mob. This is why Max rejects the trial by jury, enters a plea of guilty, and hopes that the judge will hear his evidence for Bigger Thomas.
  • Max speaks of the history of slavery. However, he doesn’t want Bigger to be seen only as the victim of injustice. That would make people feel deep guilt, and deep guilt is often no different than hatred.
  • Max says that social forces have caused blacks and whites to hate and fear each other without fully understanding why. Though Bigger Thomas is guilty, Max insists that the judge needs to get beyond that to look at the deeper social forces that created the problem.
  • Max tries to prove that Bigger and his fellow black Americans aren’t victims of injustice, but oppression. Injustice is something done to a few men for a short period of time. Slavery was a force acting upon millions of men for a few centuries.
  • Max argues that the problem Bigger represents is larger than him, therefore it can’t be solved by simply killing Bigger. Max insists that if Bigger is killed, that will guarantee more murders. Black men and women will feel the barriers even more then.
  • He speaks directly to Mr. Dalton, saying that he has kept people like Bigger in the dark forest, away from civilization. It was a deliberate act of oppression. Max points out that white people recognize their guilt and send money to help educate the black man, but that can’t right the wrong. Max says that the Mr. Daltons of the world enrich themselves by making others like Bigger poor.
  • Max argues that Bigger was made by society. Oppression created a man full of shame, rage, and anger. Accordingly, Max asserts that white people are guilty of Mary’s murder.
  • Although the lawyer admits that he doesn’t have a solution to this problem today, he thinks that it’s absurd to take revenge on Bigger for a situation white society created.
  • Max summarizes that case. There was a young white woman who tried to undo several centuries of wrongs and was misunderstood. A black man, alone in a room with the drunk white woman, was about to be caught – what options did the black man have? Max continues his argument, suggesting that Bigger did not murder or kill – he was simply living in the way he had been forced to live.
  • His final argument suggests that by sending Bigger to prison, the judge would be conferring the benefits of civilization upon him: an identity, a life lived, possibilities, and equality.
  • Max ends his speech and the courtroom bursts into life. The policemen take Bigger to a small room and Max comes to sit beside him.
  • A policeman brings food on a tray and Max tells Bigger to eat, but Bigger isn’t hungry.
  • Bigger thinks to himself: he isn’t worried about the outcome of the trial, but he’s glad that Max made an effort for his life in this way.
  • Max offers Bigger a cigarette. He takes it, then finds he doesn’t want to smoke.
  • They go back to the courtroom and the judge enters. Buckley looks "grimly assured" and that makes Bigger lose hope.
  • Buckley stands to speak and enter a plea for the death penalty. He thinks it is beneath his dignity and that of the court to respond to the "silly, alien, communistic and dangerous ideas" articulated by Max. Buckley argues that law is holy because it makes us human – Bigger pay for violating that law.
  • Buckley appeals to pride in the white race, suggesting that Bigger and his kind are a "bestial monstrosity." He characterizes Bigger as a loafer who prefers to steal, ungrateful for the opportunities that the hardworking Daltons bestowed upon him.
  • Buckley details for the courtroom the entire day of the murder. Bigger saw Mary Dalton in the movie, heard her ask if he belonged to a union, joined the dinner at Ernie’s Kitchen Shack, got drunk, drove through the park, and later attempted to take the trunk to the station the next day.
  • Buckley’s point: if the murder was accidental, why did Bigger burn the body? If it was accidental, why did Bigger take Mary Dalton’s trunk to the station? According to Buckley’s logic, Bigger planned the murder.
  • Then Buckley takes the court through the rest of the story: how Bigger sent the ransom note, how he persuaded Bessie to run away with him, how he raped and murdered Bessie and shoved her body in an airshaft.
  • When Buckley ends, with another call for the death penalty and to think of the people, the judge says the court will adjourn for one hour.
  • Max stands up and says the judge needs more time to make this decision. The judge reiterates that he will give his decision in an hour.
  • Bigger feels his fate is sealed: he will die.
  • Max and Bigger go to the little room. Bigger wonders if he should try to commit suicide by grabbing a policeman’s gun and shooting himself.
  • The two men have a brief conversation. Bigger asserts that all is lost, Max says maybe not, while also apologizing at the same time.
  • At last, they’re called back to the court. The judge asks Bigger if he wishes to make any statement at this time, but Bigger can’t speak. He shakes his head, in tears.
  • The judge pronounces his decree: the death penalty on March 3rd.
  • Things happen, but Bigger isn’t aware of anything. The policemen take him back to his cell.
  • Finally Max comes to see Bigger. He says he’ll go to the Governor, but Bigger tells him to go away. Max touches Bigger, then leaves.
  • Alone, Bigger whimpers.
  • To protect himself from the emotional devastation he knows he’ll feel, he blocks out time. He tries to block out images of the outside world.
  • He doesn’t eat, he simply forces food down.
  • His family comes to see him, but he tells them not to come again, to forget him.
  • A white priest visits, but Bigger throws a cup of hot coffee in his face. After that, the priest visits others prisoners, but doesn’t come back to see Bigger.
  • Bigger doesn’t want to see Max again. Though he’s allowed to write three letters a week, he doesn’t write to anybody. What would he say?
  • Why should he feel so much, he wonders, if he’s nothing?
  • March 3rd arrives. Now Bigger wants nothing more than to talk to Max, but he can’t bring himself to speak about his death.
  • He gets a note at noon: the governor had not pardoned Bigger. Max will also be at the jail soon.
  • Bigger has twelve hours left.
  • Max comes and the two of them look at each other. They shake hands and Max apologizes that he failed. They look at each other again, Bigger feeling shy. Then he hears himself talking, telling Max it was all-right, he did what he could.
  • Max asks if there’s anything he can do for Bigger. Bigger runs to the jail bars and clutches them in his hands. Then he comes back to the cot.
  • Max asks what’s on his mind, but Bigger says he doesn’t know. Max puts his hand on Bigger’s shoulder and Bigger knows that Max has no idea what’s in his mind. Max had given him faith that all men were the same in the end, but now Max doesn’t understand him. Bigger feels anger growing inside of him.
  • Max goes to look out the small window. Bigger realizes with a sudden force of clarity that he’s about to die. So he shouts that he was glad to know Max before he dies. Max says he’s glad, too, but he’s old and his own time will soon be over.
  • Bigger says he remembers all the questions Max asked and is disappointed when Max doesn’t remember. Bigger says that Max knew he was a murderer but he asked him questions like he was a man.
  • Max stands up and Bigger knows the lawyer is going to try to comfort him, which Bigger doesn’t want.
  • Max tells Bigger that he is human and in his work, there is no black or white, no human and savages. Bigger responds that he wishes Max had never asked him those questions because they made him think. Now he knows Max understands, so he asks, in short, how can he die when he’s never lived?
  • After the night he killed Mary, Bigger says he saw people and himself in a new way. He never wanted to hurt anybody.
  • Bigger admits his vulnerability; he’s not hard hearted at all. He’s not tough. Though he looks tough, he’s crying on the inside. Bigger asks if Max thinks that the people who are sending him to die might also not intend to hurt anybody.
  • Through the window, Max shows Bigger the buildings downtown. He says that the only reason those buildings keep standing is because people have faith in them. If men stopped believing, they’d tumble down.
  • Max says that Bigger once told him that he wanted to do a lot of things. That feeling keeps those buildings up. But, as long as a few men are squeezing those buildings between their hands, they can’t keep growing, they can’t feed the dreams that men like Bigger have. Those men don’t believe anymore. They’re afraid, and they want to keep what they have, even if that means others will suffer. Although Bigger killed somebody and it’s too late to undo that, it’s not too late for Bigger to work with those who believe in the buildings and that those buildings are for everybody.
  • Bigger mumbles that he always wanted to do something. Max assures Bigger that he can do something: he can die free.
  • Max goes on to say that the people who hate Bigger feel just as Bigger felt – afraid. The only difference is that they’re on the other side of the fence. The problem is not just black and white; it’s between rich and poor, primarily. On both sides, men want to live and are fighting to live. Who’s going to win? The side with the most men.
  • Max asks Bigger to believe in himself.
  • Bigger tells Mr. Max to go home, but says that Max’s talk allowed him to feels his dreams again. Bigger feels that what he killed for must have been a good thing. It wasn’t for nothing, it was for something.
  • Now Max is the one who’s scared.
  • Bigger tells him just to go tell his mother that he was all-right and he didn’t cry. So Max says goodbye. Bigger says goodbye.
  • Max lets himself out of the cell and he stands there.
  • Then Bigger calls out to him again, just to say he’s all-right. He really is.
  • Max tells him goodbye.
  • Goodbye, Bigger says.
  • Max begins to walk down the hallway.
  • Bigger calls after him again to tell Jan hello.
  • Max says he will.
  • They both call goodbye again.
  • Then Bigger is alone and he holds onto the jail bars. He smiles. He hears the clang of metal as the doors close on him.

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