Bigger has the opportunity for a job with a wealthy white man.
Bigger’s life is one where his every dream is immediately trampled down by oppression and harsh circumstances. As a black man in 1930's America, in Chicago’s South Side, he has limited opportunities and no ability to live anywhere else. But at the opening of the book, he has the possibility of a job as a chauffeur for a wealthy white man.
Bigger gets the job.
Bigger’s job pays more than he could have imagined—enough for himself and for his family—and involves very little work. Plus, he has the opportunity to improve himself if he wants to go to night school.
But best of all, he has his own room and his own bed, all comforts which he has never previously enjoyed. He dreams of bringing his girlfriend, Bessie, back to his room for some privacy, which he’s never been able to do before.
Bigger takes Mary and her boyfriend for a drive, accidentally kills Mary, then schemes to get money from her sudden disappearance.
First night on the job, Bigger is shamed by Mary Dalton’s clumsy attempts to treat him as an equal. Trying to avoid problems with his employer, he accidentally kills her.
Since nobody knows what has happened to Mary (he burns her body in the downstairs furnace), and since nobody seems to suspect him, he decides to use her sudden "disappearance" as an opportunity to get money from his employer in the form of a ransom. He enlists his girlfriend Bessie in the plan, who agrees very reluctantly to be a part of it.
Bigger hides from the angry men combing the city in search of him.
Bigger’s plans go awry when Mary’s body is discovered by some journalists. He flees the scene and his guilt is established. He seeks solace from Bessie, but realizes that she’s a huge liability because she’s so frightened.
Bigger convinces the girl to run away with him, then he rapes and murders her to keep her from talking to the police. Afterwards, he seeks hiding places throughout the city until his pursuers discover him on a rooftop and capture him.
Bigger is sentenced to death by the court.
Bigger’s trial is set up swiftly and the prosecution uses the mob mentality to convict Bigger of the intentional murder of a white woman. However, his kind lawyer helps Bigger to realize that not all white men hate him or want him dead. Bigger’s lawyer makes an impassioned plea that his sentence should be mitigated due to the circumstances in which he was raised, appealing to the judge’s sense of justice.
But, Max, Bigger’s lawyer, is ultimately unable to convince the judge that Bigger should be sentenced to life in prison instead of the death penalty. The last scene of the book shows Bigger alone in his prison cell, awaiting the moment when they come to take him to the electric chair.