Study Guide

Native Son

Native Son Summary

The novel opens as Bigger Thomas, the protagonist, faces down and fights a huge rat that has invaded the Thomas’ one-room apartment. We are instantly assailed with the family’s poverty and lack of options.

During the day, as Bigger waits to see a wealthy white man for a job as chauffeur, he considers robbing a white-owned business with his buddies. All of them are afraid to rob a white man, though nobody says so. Finally, Bigger threatens one of his friends in order to get out of the robbery.

That afternoon, he goes to the Daltons’ house and gets the chauffeuring job. His initial encounter with Mary Dalton, the rebellious daughter, makes him uncomfortable and worried that he’ll lose his job because she keeps talking to him about "unions." His first task is to drive her to the university that night. Instead, she directs him to a building where she meets her boyfriend, a Communist named Jan Erlone. The two young people drive Bigger around, trying to befriend him, but ultimately making him feel ashamed and angry to be black.

Late that night, Bigger has to help Mary up to her room because she’s too drunk to stand up by herself. She comes on to him when he is bringing her to her room. Alone in the room with her, he’s aroused. But at that moment, Mary’s blind mother, Mrs. Dalton, comes to the door to see if her daughter has made it home safely. Afraid that she’ll catch him in the room alone with a white woman, Bigger covers Mary’s head with a pillow to keep her silent and accidentally smothers her to death.

Now afraid that he’ll be charged with murder, Bigger burns Mary’s body in the basement furnace to hide what he has done. He has to cut her head off with a hatchet to fit her body in the furnace but finally, he manages to get it done. He returns to his home on the south side of Chicago to catch a couple hours of sleep. Bigger’s act fills him with a sense of purpose for the first time in his life. He feels like he’s actually done something that nobody else made him do, so he commits himself to his course of action.

Back at the Daltons’ house, Mrs. Dalton is worried about where her daughter is. Though Mary was supposed to take a train to Detroit that day, Mrs. Dalton has noticed that she’s left many of her new clothes behind, which her mother finds strange. Bigger suggests that the last time he saw Mary, she was with Jan. Mrs. Dalton sends Bigger home for the day and Bigger visits his girlfriend, Bessie. Though Bessie is clearly reluctant to participate, Bigger makes plans to write a kidnap note in order to benefit financially from Mary’s disappearance. Bessie suspects he’s done something to the girl.

Bigger goes back to the Daltons’ house, where Mr. Dalton has hired a private detective. Britten, the detective, questions Bigger and Bigger makes his story point towards Jan. Britten eventually finds Jan and questions them together. Jan wonders why Bigger is lying and if he was told to lie. Later, Jan confronts Bigger out on the sidewalk and Bigger threatens him with a gun until he runs away.

Bigger writes his kidnap note, slips it under the door, then returns to his room at the Daltons. Mr. Dalton calls the police, who arrive with the media in tow. Bigger keeps wondering if he should leave but he’s too anxious to find out what happens. He still thinks he might get his hands on the money. When he’s told to empty the ashes in the furnace to get the fire going again, he’s nervous and fills the room with smoke. A journalist takes over for him and soon finds the remains of Mary’s body. Bigger flees through his bedroom window and goes to find Bessie.

He convinces Bessie they have to leave together because she knows too much. Once he gets her alone, however, he rapes her. Afraid she’ll give him away whether he takes her with him or leaves her behind, he hits her with a brick, then throws her into an airshaft in an abandoned building. So now Bigger has murdered two women. He also forgets that Bessie had been carrying the money he stole from Mary.

The city starts a massive manhunt. Bigger is eventually cornered, and though he never submits, police tactics are too powerful for him and he finally gets caught. In jail, Bigger refuses to eat or drink or talk to anyone. Jan comes to visit and says he understands now why Bigger acted the way he had. He has brought a Communist lawyer with him, Mr. Max, who will represent Bigger. Max and Bigger spend hours together. Bigger finally begins to confide in Max, telling him how he lacked choices all his life as young black man and how there really was no future for him. As Bigger begins to see the mob mentality outside the doors of the jailhouse, he realizes he’s a dead man if he ever finds himself outside the prison walls without police protection.

When Max defends Bigger at his trial, he claims essentially that American society boxes black men and women in. He argues that society gives them no options in life and denies them the basic right of all humans—to fulfill their destiny in relationship to the measure of intelligence and talents they were born with. This creates anger, shame, and fear, and it boils over into crime, such as Mary’s murder. He encourages the judge to give Bigger life in jail instead of the death sentence. But the judge concurs with the prosecution and Bigger is sentenced to the electric chair.

The day he is going to die, Bigger and Max have another conversation. Bigger talks about all that he’s learned about himself and about humanity; he wishes he had a chance to experience life with the knowledge he’s gained. When Max gets up to go, Bigger asks him to tell Jan goodbye. (This is the first time he’s called him Jan instead of "Mr." Jan.) Max says he will. Bigger is left alone, waiting for the moment the guards take him in to die.

  • Book One: Fear

    • An alarm clock rings and Ma wakes the kids up—Bigger, Buddy, and Vera. We know the setting is a one-room apartment because the boys have to turn their heads while their mother and sister, Vera, get dressed and the women do the same when the boys get dressed.
    • Their morning routine is interrupted when a rat enters the room and Bigger and Buddy try to kill it with a skillet. The scary thing is that the rat actually attacks them as they chase it rather than just running away to hide.
    • Finally, the battle with the rat is over. The two boys kill it, smashing its head in with a shoe. While the women sob, Bigger and Buddy admire their work, noticing how big the rodent is and how long its fangs are.
    • Bigger teases his sister by approaching her and swinging the giant rat. Vera screams and falls off the bed in a dead faint. Ma asks Bigger to help get Vera back up on the bed, then calls him "the biggest fool I ever saw" for scaring her like that.
    • She wonders why she even gave birth to him, then says if Bigger was a real man, they wouldn’t have to live in such a dump.
    • Vera wakes up and complains about Bigger and about being late for her sewing class at the YMCA.
    • The mother berates Bigger, saying that he’s going to feel sorry about the way he treats Vera if the girl ever dies. This is evidently a common tirade, which she continues by letting him know they’d be just as well off without him. He’ll regret running with the gang someday, she says. The gallows lie at the end of the path he’s running.
    • She continues her lament, saying she might as well die. Bigger shuts their voices out of his head. He’s ashamed of the way they live but feels powerless to help them.
    • The family sits down to eat while his mother sings "Life’s Railway to Heaven," a song that irritates the heck out of Bigger.
    • As they sit down to eat, the mother nags Bigger, saying he’ll have to get up earlier than this if he wants to keep a job. Anyway, does he plan to take that job? She continues, while he says he’s already told her he’s going to take the dang job—how many times does he need to tell her anyway?
    • Then there’s a little spat. Ma pretends like Bigger hasn’t said he’s going to take the job and how, if he got the job, he could help them live in a better place than this. Buddy tells his mother to lay off. Bigger says he wishes they’d let him eat.
    • Bigger gets angry as he sits there, thinking about the job. He asks for some carfare (that’s money for public transportation) and, as he leaves, his mother says if he doesn’t take the job, there won’t be any more food. He yells that he’s already said he’ll take the job and slams the door shut.
    • As he leaves, he angrily reflects on the fact that he has only two choices: take the job and be miserable, or refuse it and starve.
    • He thinks about how he’ll spend the day and notices a poster of a white face. He realizes the poster is a picture of a man called Buckley, who is running for State’s Attorney again. He thinks if he made as much money as Buckley, he would never have to worry again.
    • It was one of those pictures where Buckley looks at you straight on and, as you walk away from it, you keep glancing back, feeling like somebody’s watching you. The letters above the picture announce, "YOU CAN’T WIN," and Bigger mutters to himself, "You crook."
    • He counts his money and swears that he’s always broke. He needs another twenty cents to go to the movie and buy a magazine. He really wants to see a movie.
    • Instead, he could go hang out with Gus, G.H., and Jack—members of the gang—but he’d have to be ready to do what they’ve been scheming. The plan is to hold up Blum’s Delicatessen, which could make him some quick money.
    • The thing is, they’d never robbed a white man before. It seemed safer to rob black people, because they knew a white policeman wouldn’t care as much. Robbing Blum’s seems like a terrible thing, like it would bring the wrath of the entire police force upon them.
    • They want to do it—it seems like the real deal, a real stickup—but they’re afraid.
    • As Bigger contemplates all of this, Vera passes him by and says goodbye.
    • She tells him to stay away from G.H., Jack, and Gus and get that job.
    • Bigger’s sure that his mother has been talking to Buddy and Vera about him. About how he’ll be sent to prison instead of the reform school (like last time) if he gets into trouble again. What he resents is his mother telling Vera these things, not Buddy. Vera believes everything she’s told.
    • He heads towards the poolroom. He sees Gus, the mastermind of the plan to rob Blum’s. G.H. and Jack aren’t around yet.
    • The two guys smoke. They watch the sky and make small-talk about the weather.
    • They see a plane writing something in the sky. While it slowly etches words out ("USE SPEED GASOLINE"), they discuss how fast planes fly. Bigger claims he could fly a plane if he had a chance, but Gus mocks him, saying he wouldn’t be able to fly because he’s black.
    • Bigger is resentful of the way white people treat black people. Gus, on the other hand, just thinks that the world is how it is and there’s no use getting all upset about it.
    • Bigger suggests that they "play white," a game where they imitate white people.
    • Gus doesn’t want to, but Bigger insists. Bigger pretends to be a general in the military, commanding Gus to take his men to the river and attack at dawn. So Gus falls into the game, saying, "Yessir!" to everything Bigger says.
    • Then Gus takes his turn, imitating J.P. Morgan (a rich banker). He pretends he wants Bigger to sell twenty thousand shares of U.S. Steel stock, to dump ‘em at any price, and to let him know that afternoon if the president phoned.
    • Then Bigger calls, pretending to be the President. He tells Gus that as Secretary of State, Gus has to be at a cabinet meeting that afternoon. He’s planning to do something about all those black people "raising sand" all over the country.
    • When they finish the final one, Bigger starts cursing about how white people don’t let black people do anything. He’s known that for awhile but he hasn’t gotten used to it. They have things, black people don’t. They live in separate neighborhoods. They do things black people can’t. It’s like prison, he concludes.
    • Then Bigger admits, almost like he’s proud, that he thinks something awful is going to happen to him just because he’s black.
    • Gus is obviously afraid and tells Bigger to stop thinking about it.
    • But Bigger admits he wants something, anything, to happen.
    • Then they watch as a grey pigeon swoops down onto the cable tracks and struts. It flies away as a street car approaches.
    • Bigger says he wishes he could do that. He wants to be able to go where he wants to go and do what he wants to do.
    • Gus tells him not to think about it, but Bigger insists it’s not that simple. Gus advises Bigger to get drunk and sleep it off.
    • Bigger says he can’t because he’s broke.
    • Do you know where white people live, Gus? He asks.
    • Gus nods towards the dividing line.
    • Bigger says they live in his stomach.
    • Gus looks away as if ashamed. He admits he knows what Bigger means. They’re also in the throat and chest, making it so sometimes you can’t breathe.
    • That’s why Bigger feels something awful is going to happen to him. Or like he’s going to do something he can’t help.
    • Gus knows what he means and they agree that whites own the world.
    • They go to the poolroom, nod at Doc (the poolroom owner), and start playing pool. Bigger wins.
    • Then he starts playing badly, thinking about Blum’s. Finally Bigger brings the robbery up and says "Let’s do it."
    • Gus isn’t so sure—Blum has a gun. But, Bigger presses the issue, accusing Gus of being scared because Blum is white.
    • Bigger says Gus doesn’t have to go into the store, he can just be the lookout. Jack, G.H., and Bigger will go in.
    • Jack and G.H. arrive.
    • Bigger asks if they want to play pool, and Gus points out that he’s the one paying for the game. Everybody laughs, but Bigger feels like the joke is on him.
    • So Bigger tells them they can all laugh, but he has Blum’s place all figured out. He says it’ll be easy. The cops are at the other end of the street, the old man is the only one in the store. So one person should stay outside to watch while the other three go in. One person will keep a gun on Blum, one will go for the cash box, and the third will have the back door open so they can make a quick getaway down the back alley.
    • G.H. objects because previously they had always said they’d never use a gun. Bigger says this robbery is something big, which is why they need a gun. He asks if they’re too scared to do it.
    • There’s silence. Bigger watches Jack, knowing he’s the one who decides.
    • As he waits to see what Jack will say, and whether Gus will go or not, he gets more and more scared. He’s afraid they really will go. He grows hot. He thinks something inside is going to snap.
    • Finally, Jack says he’ll go. G.H. says he’ll go if everybody does. Gus is still quiet.
    • Now Bigger is content. He’d wanted it to be three against one so he’d played his cards right.
    • As they wait for Gus to decide, he begins to hate and fear Gus with the hate and fear he tends to reserves for whites.
    • But still Gus is silent. Bigger’s anger grows and grows until he calls Gus an S.O.B. and accuses him of being scared because just because the owner of Blum’s is white.
    • Gus tells Bigger not to cuss at him.
    • They argue. Gus insists Bigger isn’t his boss, and Bigger insists that Gus is yellow.
    • Gus looks at Bigger and Bigger grows fearful again. He knows in a minute he’ll hit Gus if Gus doesn’t answer.
    • Gus finally does answer. He tells Bigger that he’s the source of all their problems. It’s his fiery temper. Gus asserts that he has a right to make up his own mind, and it’s Bigger who’s actually scared—scared Gus will say yes and then they’ll have to actually go through with the robbery.
    • Bigger threatens to take a pool ball and stuff it in Gus’s mouth.
    • Gus finally says he’s going with them but he’s not going to take orders from Bigger.
    • Bigger leaps at him but Jack gets in the way and stops the fight. Bigger stares at Gus and his anger is so palpable that he wants to stab Gus with a knife, kick him, send him sprawling.
    • Gus and G.H. go for a walk.
    • They all decide to meet back at the pool hall at 3 o’clock for the big heist.
    • After Gus and G.H. leave, Bigger begins to sweat with his fear. He directs all his anger towards Gus.
    • Bigger says that Gus is cowardly, so in order to get him to do anything, you have to make him more scared of what’ll happen if he doesn’t do the job than what’ll happen to him if he does.
    • Bigger is beginning to feel hysteria and he knows he needs to get rid of that emotion. The only way he can regain his confidence is to do something violent.
    • He fluctuates between these moods: indifference and violence, silence and anger, brooding and desire. In other words, he’s moody and proud of it.
    • Jack and Bigger leave the pool room. They walk leisurely, smoking cigarettes. Bigger says he wants to see a movie, so they head to the theatre, buy tickets, and go inside.
    • Bigger looks around the theater to see if anyone is watching him. Then he starts to masturbate. (This scene is removed from older printings of the book.) He challenges Jack to see who can get off first. Bigger wishes he had Bessie here now and Jack says he can make Clare moan.
    • They finish and change seats.
    • Then he says they’d better take their guns this time but Jack says they should be careful not to kill anyone. They both wish the robbery was already over.
    • The movie starts and they see pictures of white women in Florida and comment how beautiful they are. But as they watch, Bigger realizes that one of the women—Mary Dalton, daughter of Chicago’s Henry Dalton—is the daughter of the man he’s supposed to work for if he takes the job his mom has been nagging him about.
    • The girl Mary has fallen in love with a radical. It shows them kissing on the sand and the announcer says that shortly after this scene became public, Mama and Papa Dalton called Mary home because they didn’t like her Communist friend.
    • What’s a Communist? Bigger wants to know.
    • Jack thinks it’s a race that lives in Russia. And rich people don’t like Communists.
    • Bigger thinks that Mary is hot.
    • Jack says his mother used to work for rich families and that rich girls will go to bed with anybody "from a poodle on up."
    • Bigger is suddenly excited about his new job. He’ll get to see rich life from the inside. Maybe he’d figure out how to get some wealth out of it. Bigger sees getting rich is a game that white folks know how to play.
    • His mother had told him that rich white people liked black people better than they liked poor white people. He’d heard of a black chauffeur who married a rich white girl; the parents sent them out of the country but gave them money to live on.
    • Bigger decides that he will take the job. Maybe Mary Dalton will want to see the South Side of Chicago. Maybe she had a secret sweetheart and she’d give him money to keep quiet about it.
    • He suddenly thinks he’s a fool to want to rob Blum’s when he’s got this job coming up.
    • Jack says it’s time to go because it’s twenty to three. So they leave the theatre and agree to go get their guns and meet back up.
    • Bigger walks home, his fear getting worse as he goes. He doesn’t want to do this anymore, but feels trapped.
    • He hears his mother singing inside the apartment: "Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my heart."
    • Bigger tiptoes inside and gets his gun. When his mother calls out to ask if that’s him she hears. He leaves without answering, slamming the door behind him.
    • He feels the fear growing in his stomach.
    • When he gets to Doc’s (the poolroom), though, Gus isn’t there. Bigger feels a bit relieved.
    • Jack, D.H., and Bigger don’t speak to each other. Bigger smokes a cigarette and thinks he should say something in order to break the tension.
    • The guys are playing pool, and Bigger bets Jack "two bits" that he can’t hit a ball into one of the table’s pockets.
    • Jack makes it and says Bigger would have lost if it had been a real bet.
    • Gus still hasn’t shown up, and if he takes much longer, it’ll be too late to execute the plan—and Gus knows that. The robbery has to be done while the cop is on the other end of the street and before folks came in looking to buy things for their supper.
    • Bigger begins to threaten to do something to Gus if he doesn’t make it. G.H. defends Gus and says he has more guts than the rest of them.
    • Jack says they can always do it tomorrow.
    • Bigger walks to the window and sees Gus coming along the street. At that moment, he knows: he’s going to do something to Gus although he doesn’t know what yet.
    • Gus is whistling, "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" as he comes in.
    • As he comes in, Bigger whirls around and kicks him hard. As Gus flops to the floor, Bigger laughs. Gus gets up and looks at Bigger with hate. Doc says to take it easy.
    • Gus threatens to fix Bigger one of these days. Bigger tells him to say that again, in a threatening way.
    • Doc tells Bigger to leave Gus alone.
    • As Gus goes away, Bigger follows him, grabbing him by the collar and yelling to say it again.
    • Gus yells at Bigger to quit hassling him, but Bigger strikes Gus.
    • As Jack tells Bigger not to hurt him, Bigger says he’s going to kill Gus—and starts choking Gus by tightening his hold on Gus’s collar.
    • Gus begins to struggle. But finally he shakes loose and Bigger staggers back. Then he pulls out a knife. He springs, trips Gus to the floor and brandishes his knife over Gus’s prone body.
    • Gus surrenders and finally Bigger gets up.
    • He demands that Gus get up too. When he doesn’t, Bigger puts his knife to Gus’s throat. Finally, Gus stands and Bigger demands that Gus lick the knife. Gus starts to cry, and he looks around the room for help but nobody moves. Gus licks the blade, crying.
    • Doc says, "Ha-ha," laughing, thinking the joke is done, but Bigger isn’t finished yet.
    • He has Gus stretch his hands high up along the wall. He makes a circular motion on Gus’s stomach with the blade and asks how’d he like to have his belly button cut out?
    • Doc laughs. Jack and G.H. laugh. Bigger smiles. He calls Gus a clown and tells him not to be late next time.
    • Bigger insists that it’s too late to do it now.
    • Gus throws a billiard ball at Bigger (he misses) and runs away. Bigger starts to go after Gus but Doc says that’s enough, laughing while he says it. G.H. and Jack laugh, too.
    • Bigger gets more and more furious. He takes out his knife again and tells them to keep laughing. Doc bends down behind the counter and picks up something in his arms that he doesn’t show to anyone. But he’s still laughing.
    • Bigger’s getting more riled up and starts slashing the billiard tables.
    • Doc then tells Bigger to get out before he shoots him.
    • Bigger walks slowly past Doc, his knife in his hand. He looks back and sees that G.H. and Jack have already taken off.
    • Doc shows the gun at last, telling Bigger again to get out of there.
    • Afraid, Bigger leaves. He passes Blum’s store and sees that Blum is alone and the store is empty. He had lied. There would have been plenty time to rob the store.
    • But still, he thinks, he had shown them all that he was their equal while also hiding his fear. Now he just wants to be alone.
    • He goes home and sits in a chair by a window, looking out at the world.
    • His mother tells him not to get in trouble.
    • He listens to her washing clothes and thinks about how he felt when he fought Gus: relieved. He was tired of the gang. And today’s events put an end to his relationship with them anyway.
    • He had known that it would be better to fight Gus than to hold up a white man with a gun. But he hid his fear even from himself—the only way he could live was by hiding that truth. So he thinks to himself that he had fought Gus because Gus was late. He just needed to remember he wasn’t responsible to anyone.
    • He feels the gun against his skin and thinks he should put it away but decides he’ll take it with him to the Dalton Place. It’ll make him feel safer, especially since he is going to be among white people. In Bigger’s mind, the gun makes him their equal.
    • At five, he gets up and gets ready to leave. As he heads out the door, his mother asks him if he’s going to see about the job. Yes, he says. She gives him a quarter to buy himself something to eat.
    • He walks south, then east, wondering if the Daltons are the same ones in the movie after all. But, it doesn’t seem as mysterious and wonderful as it had in the movie theatre.
    • When he reaches the Daltons’ house, he feels only fear and emptiness. Should he go through the front or the back? he wonders. As he walks along the fence, he doesn’t see a way into the back. Then he wonders whether a white policeman would think he’s there to rob a house? He begins to wish he’d never come.
    • He goes into the front and pushes the doorbell. The door opens. A white face. A woman.
    • She knows who he is and lets him in. She tells him to wait while she gets Mr. Dalton.
    • Left alone, he’s very uncomfortable. He hadn’t realized that the white world would be so different from his own that he’d feel intimidated and scared.
    • He looks at the paintings on the wall. He hears music. He begins to feel angry.
    • A white man comes and gets him. Bigger follows him through the house. They pass an elderly woman who is blind. When they pass, the man tells Bigger that the lady was Mrs. Dalton and she has a "deep interest" in black people.
    • Now we realize that this man is Mr. Dalton. He asks for the paper from the "relief people" (the ones who referred Bigger for the job). As Bigger reaches into his pocket to get it, he drops his hat. He’s not sure what to do—pick up his cap or get the paper. So he reaches for the hat.
    • He hates himself for a minute. He hasn’t met Mr. Dalton’s eyes yet. He feels convinced that this is the way white people want him to behave in their presence. He notices that Mr. Dalton is watching him closely as he searches for the paper.
    • Finally he finds it.
    • Mr. Dalton begins to question him about where he lives, to whom he pays rent, how big the place is, and how much he pays for rent per week. Bigger had heard that Mr. Dalton owns the South Side Real Estate Company, the place where he pays the rent each week.
    • It turns out Bigger is twenty years old and unmarried.
    • Mr. Dalton continues to question him, saying that the relief people had said that Bigger works very hard when he’s interested in what he’s doing. But they also said he was always in trouble. Mr. Dalton wonders if Bigger will keeping stealing now that he has a job?
    • Bigger says no.
    • Mr. Dalton plans to hire Bigger as his driver, and he’ll pay him $25 a week. He’ll get the clothes he needs, his meals, and a room to sleep in. He can keep $5 for himself to spend as he likes, and he should send the remaining $20 to his mother to keep his brother and sister in school.
    • Mr. Dalton then tells him about the daily schedule: Bigger will have to take Mr. Dalton to the office at nine. Then he needs to return home to take Miss Dalton to school at ten. At twelve, he should pick up Miss Dalton at the university. From then until night, he’s free, unless the Daltons need to go out at night. He’ll work every day, but the family doesn’t get up until noon on Sundays, so he can have Sunday mornings off. He’ll get one full day off every two weeks.
    • Mary Dalton walks into the room. Yes, she is the same girl from the movie.
    • Mr. Dalton introduces Bigger to Mary as their new chauffeur.
    • She asks Bigger if he belongs to a union and, when he says no, insists that he should. Mr. Dalton tells her to hush.
    • Bigger hates her for a moment. He’s trying to get a job and she’s ruining it.
    • Mr. Dalton tells her to leave Bigger alone. She tells him, "All-right, Mr. Capitalist," then asks Bigger if Mr. Dalton doesn’t look like a capitalist.
    • Bigger doesn’t know what a capitalist is.
    • Then she tells her father that if Bigger doesn’t have anything else to do, he can drive her to a lecture at the university tonight.
    • She leaves. Bigger wishes she hadn’t said anything about unions and wonders if he won’t be hired now. She’s not at all the way he had imagined she would be.
    • Mr. Dalton calls after Mary, then leaves the room.
    • Bigger hears them talking and her laughing. He decides he should leave this crazy girl alone. No wonder they called her a Communist!
    • Mr. Dalton returns, picks up his paper, and looks at it a long time.
    • Then he tells Bigger that he’s hiring him because he’s a big supporter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Bigger has never heard of the NAACP.
    • Mr. Dalton calls Peggy, the cook, and tells her to give Bigger something to eat. He tells Bigger to drive Miss Dalton to the university at 8:30.
    • Peggy takes Bigger to the kitchen and makes him bacon and eggs.
    • She asks him if Mr. Dalton told him about the furnace. He says no. So she tells Bigger that his job is also to keep the fire going in the furnace.
    • Peggy seems kind, he thinks, but maybe she’s just trying to shove off some of her own work on him. As he eats, he thinks that the only bad part of the job so far is "that crazy girl," Mary Dalton. In film, he could deal with her, but in real life she "put herself in the way."
    • Peggy tells him he’ll like the job and the last black man worked for "us" for ten years. Bigger wonders why she refers to herself as part of the family by using the word "us." That man left because Mrs. Dalton made him go to night school and he got a government job.
    • Bigger decides he isn’t going to night school.
    • Peggy’s been with the Daltons for twenty years. She says they’re millionaires but they live "like human beings" and they’re not snobbish. She says they’re like one big family.
    • Mr. Dalton, she says, does a lot for "your people," but Mrs. Dalton is the one who makes him do it. She’s the one who made her husband rich when he married her.
    • Peggy continues to talk, letting him know that he has more than just a job here—he has a home. She explains that this is only home she’ll ever know. Apparently, she plans to work for the Daltons until she dies. And she explains that her Irish parents feel the same way about England that black people feel about the white Americans, so she can understand him.
    • Then Peggy tells him that Miss Dalton is always in trouble and is always worrying her parents. That ends the gossip session.
    • She takes him down to the basement to the furnace. He sees the embers glowing and smells the fire and ash.
    • Peggy explains that every morning, he’ll find the garbage here and he should burn it and put the bucket on the dumbwaiter. He’ll never have to put coal on the fire—the system is rigged so it feeds coal automatically. And the water fills by itself, too. He just has to take out the ashes and sweep. When the coal is low, he needs to tell Peggy or Mr. Dalton so they can order more.
    • Peggy gives Bigger keys to his room, the garage, and the car.
    • In the garage, she explains how he should drive the car out of the garage, then wait at the side door for whoever he’s driving.
    • Since Bigger is free until he has to drive Miss Dalton at 8:30, he goes to his new room. He looks at the pictures of Jack Johnson, other boxers, and a few white actresses on the walls. The bed is soft and he thinks how he can bring Bessie here some night. He can drink in peace. He won’t have to sleep with Buddy anymore!
    • He lights a cigarette and stretches out on the bed. He thinks he should buy himself a gold watch.
    • The one bad part of this job is that girl. Mary Dalton. She could make him lose his job.
    • He tries to figure out what she acts like. He has never met a white woman like her; she doesn’t stand aloof and distant from him. Maybe she is okay, he thinks. And Mr. Dalton had given millions of dollars to black people. So there’s clearly plenty of money around.
    • He hopes the car will be a Packard or a Rolls Royce, something grand. When he’s alone in the car, he’ll burn rubber.
    • He’s thirsty. He looks at his watch, then goes to the kitchen. There, he sees Mrs. Dalton standing still in the middle of the kitchen. She looks like she’s listening. Beside her is a white cat.
    • He’s about to tiptoe away when she says, "Are you the new boy?"
    • He admits he wanted water and she welcomes him to come in. He goes to the sink, watching her, feeling watched. He realizes that Mrs. Dalton has an uncanny ability to know exactly where he is by listening.
    • They exchange pleasantries until finally she asks how far he went in school and he says to the eighth grade. She wonders if he’d ever think of going back. Would he like to get an education? What would he want to be if he could get an education? Bigger doesn’t know.
    • He leaves her, still standing where he found her. He feels like she would be a harsh but kind judge.
    • His mother, he thinks, wants him to do all the things she wants him to do. But Mrs. Dalton wants him to do the things she thinks he should want to do. But he doesn’t want an education. He has other plans or at least, an idea of other plans.
    • He drives the car out of the garage, disappointed that it’s a Buick, and inspects it. He decides it’s okay.
    • Mary Dalton comes out and gets in the car. He gets in and asks if her university is the one on the Midway. She hesitates, then says yes.
    • He watches her in the rearview mirror as he drives. She acts distant now, nothing like when he’d first met her.
    • As he drives, he feels powerful.
    • Mary Dalton tells him to pull into a side street. He doesn’t know what she means but does as he’s told.
    • He pulls in to a curb and turns back to look at her, but her face is right there, close to his.
    • Mary asks if she scares him. He says no and thinks how weird and unexpected she is.
    • She asks him to light a match and she smokes. Then she asks him if he’s a tattletale.
    • He opens his mouth but can’t speak.
    • Then Mary says she’s not going to the university and tells him to drive her to the Loop. She instructs him to lie and say he brought her to the university if anyone asks.
    • He agrees. Mary says she thinks she can trust him and she’s on his side. He doesn’t know what the girl means by that.
    • She says she’s going to meet a friend of hers who is also a friend of his.
    • Bigger is startled by this, but she says he doesn’t know this friend yet.
    • Maybe she was talking about "the Reds," he thinks—Communists. But his friends aren’t Reds.
    • He will have to lie to Mr. Dalton, but what if Mr. Dalton is having them watched? He’ll have to watch his step so that Mary doesn’t make him lose his job.
    • He drives her to a dark building and she gets out, saying she won’t be long. She tells Bigger that he’ll understand everything better "bye and bye," and makes a reference to that being a song that "your people" sing.
    • When she leaves, he reflects how weird she is and how much she frightens him.
    • He looks at the building Mary entered and wonders whether she’s gone to meet her sweetheart or Communists or both. Bigger reflects on how he’s seen cartoons of Communists in the newspaper and they’re always looking murderous or trying to set things on fire. They’re crazy.
    • Mary comes back out of the building with a young white man. They come around to the front of the car and Miss Dalton introduces Bigger to "Jan," who extends his right hand to shake. Bigger starts to shake then stops. Jan insists and they shake and even when Bigger tries to pull his hand away. Jan grips Bigger’s hand firmly.
    • Jan tells Bigger he doesn’t want to be called sir. They’ll call each other by their first names. Bigger doesn’t respond and Mary laughs, telling him that Jan really means it.
    • Bigger starts to feel angry with Mary for laughing at him. He wishes they would leave him alone. He wonders what everybody passing might think and he’s aware that he’s a black man and that men like Jan have made him aware that he’s a black man. He feels naked and so he hates them.
    • Jan asks if he can drive for awhile and Mary says it’s okay.
    • With Jan is now at the wheel, Mary is in the passenger seat and Bigger is wedged in the middle. He is sitting in between two white people, two "white looming walls." He smells Mary’s hair and feels the pressure of her thigh against his own.
    • Jan and Mary talk about how beautiful the world is. Jan says that "after the revolution," "we" will own the Chicago skyline, the whole world. There will be no white or black, no rich or poor, he says.
    • Bigger doesn’t feel like he should move even though he feels cramped. He’s black and so he feels cramped.
    • Jan wants to know where they can get a good meal on the South Side. Mary adds that they want to go to a real place.
    • So Bigger takes them to Ernie’s Kitchen Shack. He wants them to hurry up and get there so he can sit in the car and stretch out his legs while they eat.
    • Jan points at the apartments they pass and says he’s always wanted to get inside there to see how "your people" live. He’s traveled the world but he doesn’t know people ten blocks from his own home. Even though he’s talking to Bigger about black people, Jan still refers to black people as "them." "They’re human," he says. "They must live like we live."
    • Bigger wishes he could kill all of them in the car. He’s feeling his emotions get out of control. Why couldn’t they leave him alone?
    • Bigger accidentally calls Jan "sir" again and Jan chides him for it.
    • When they get out, Mary and Jan obviously expect Bigger to go in the restaurant with them, but Bigger doesn’t want to go where people know him and will wonder what he’s doing with these white people.
    • He tells them he doesn’t want to, but they pressure him until he feels trapped and gives in. Bigger distrusts and hates his white companions.
    • Mary begins to cry because she realizes they’ve made Bigger feel bad. Then she apologizes to Bigger about crying.
    • Jan says, "Let’s eat." Ironically, although he wants them to be "equal," Jan keeps commanding Bigger: Let’s eat, sit down, don’t call me sir.
    • Inside, Bigger’s friend Jack waves at Bigger and stares at Jan and Mary. The waitresses and customers stare at them, too.
    • Bessie, Bigger’s girlfriend, comes over and says hi, then walks away when she sees Jan and Mary.
    • Jan and Mary eat but Bigger struggles with his food. When Mary encourages him to eat, he says he isn’t hungry. When Jan asks if he’d like some beer, Bigger decides he might feel more comfortable around them if he were drunk. Jan orders rum and pours a round. Bigger begins to feel much better.
    • Jan starts firing questions at Bigger about where he was born (Mississippi), how long he’s been in Chicago (five years), where his father is (dead, killed in a riot in the South), whether anything was done about his father’s death (no), and how he feels about that (he doesn’t know). Jan brings up the Scottsboro trial and asks if "we" did a good job keeping them from killing those boys.
    • Then Mary tells Bigger that they’d like to be his friend.
    • He says nothing, just drinks more. He’s drunk enough now that he can look at them.
    • Bigger drives them home, while Mary and Jan cuddle in the back seat.
    • Mary asks Bigger if he has a girl and he says yes. Mary says she’d like to meet her sometime.
    • Then Jan and Mary start talking about a demonstration and three "comrades" were arrested. They need money for bail so Mary says she’ll send a check.
    • Mary says she’s finishing school in the spring and she plans to join the Party then. She also says she wants to meet some Negroes. Jan admits he doesn’t know many very well, but she’ll meet them when she’s in the Party.
    • Mary starts expressing her admiration for black people for how emotional they are. Jan admits the Communists can’t have a revolution without them.
    • Mary starts singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and Jan joins in.
    • Bigger thinks to himself that they’re getting the tune wrong.
    • In the back seat, Jan and Mary continue to drink.
    • They ask Bigger if he wants some so he slows the car and takes a "swig."
    • He thinks about how Jan and Mary are getting plastered, though he’s clearly feeling it himself too. He doesn’t feel like he’s driving—more like he’s floating.
    • Bigger sees Mary lying flat on the back seat with Jan bent over her. Then he sees a flash of white thigh.
    • Finally, Mary says it’s 1 a.m. and time for her to go. Jan says he hates to see her go to Detroit, but she says she’ll be back in a couple of days. She wants just a little more liquor, though, to help her sleep.
    • Both Jan and Mary are drunk now. Jan gives Bigger some pamphlets to read and says they’ll talk about them in a couple of days.
    • Bigger drops Jan off and Mary gets up front in the passenger seat. Bigger’s feeling pretty drunk himself. As they drive home, Mary tells him he’s really nice and leans her head on his shoulder.
    • When they get home, Mary has trouble getting out of the car. Bigger helps her, but he gets really turned on. He has to hold her up.
    • She tells him to turn her loose but then she falls. Bigger realizes that she’s going to wake everybody up. He feels helpless at the same time that he admires her and hates her. And he’s kind of excited to see her all drunk. So he helps her up.
    • As he leads her up the stairs to the kitchen door, Bigger feels her breasts. He gets excited, helping her, and hates her at the same time.
    • Finally, he gets Mary to her room and tries to wake her again. As Bigger is helping her, though, she begins to kiss him and he realizes suddenly that she’s experienced. He kisses her again. Mary’s hips grind against his.
    • Bigger lifts Mary and lays her on the bed. He plans to leave, but he doesn’t want to remove his hands from her breasts. He kisses her again.
    • The door behind him creaks. Mrs. Dalton is there and she calls Mary’s name. Mary mumbles in her sleep while Bigger holds his breath and is silent.
    • Mary tries to rise, but Bigger pushes her head back in the pillow to keep her from saying anything that would allow Mrs. Dalton to discover his presence.
    • Mrs. Dalton says that her daughter must be asleep.
    • Bigger wants to move but he’s afraid Mrs. Dalton will sense him. He holds his hand over Mary’s mouth. Mary tries to rise again and so he covers her entire face with the pillow and he pushes on the girl with all his weight so she won’t make a sound.
    • Mrs. Dalton moves towards them and Mary’s fingernails dig into Bigger’s wrists.
    • Mrs. Dalton keeps asking if that’s Mary. Suddenly, Mary’s fingers loosen. Bigger takes his hands from the pillow and he hears a long sigh from the bed.
    • Now Mrs. Dalton asks if Mary is ill.
    • Bigger stands up and matches his movements with Mrs. Dalton’s so she can’t hear him. Mrs. Dalton reaches the bed and touches Mary. She takes a step back and exclaims that Mary stinks of whiskey—she’s dead drunk. Then she kneels by the bed and starts praying.
    • Finally, Mrs. Dalton leaves and Bigger relaxes. What if that had been Mr. Dalton, he thinks? He was lucky indeed.
    • But how will he get back to his own room? He begins to hate this entire house.
    • He goes to the bed and looks down at Mary. Then he blinks. He realizes suddenly that her chest isn’t moving. He can’t hear her breath. He bends toward her, moving her head with his hand. She’s dead.
    • Bigger had killed her. He’s a murderer, a black murderer no less. He knows he has to leave. But, had Mrs. Dalton known he was in the room?
    • Would Jan give him away? Jan could say that when he had left the two, Mary was very much alive.
    • Bigger frantically thinks. Nobody can know that he was the last person who was with her.
    • His fingerprints are all over the body, he realizes, all over the house! They’d give him away.
    • But if he had come up to get the trunk, which she was taking with her to Detroit in the morning, that would explain his fingerprints in the room! He could take the trunk and put it in the basement and put the car in the garage and go home.
    • No, there had to be a better way. He could lie and say he brought Jan back to the house with him.
    • He starts rehearsing the story in his head.
    • Finally, he gets the trunk and drags it across the floor.
    • Then he realizes he can put Mary’s body in the trunk. She was supposed to be gone for three days. Maybe nobody will know. He’ll have three days to figure it all out.
    • So he lifts her into the trunk, terrified the entire time, but her body doesn’t quite fit and he has to shove it in, doubling up her knees. He starts to realize what he’s done—he, a black man, has killed a white woman.
    • Finally, he takes the trunk downstairs, expecting Mrs. Dalton (a white blur) to appear any minute.
    • When he gets the trunk in the basement and sees the furnace, he suddenly has another idea. He could put her in the furnace. He could burn her.
    • He opens the door of the furnace, then opens the trunk. He lifts Mary’s body out and begins to shove her in the furnace.
    • Bigger pushes the body in feet first. There’s so much smoke, he can barely see. Her body sticks at the shoulders and as he tries to push her further in, she won’t budge.
    • Suddenly he sees the cat staring at him and he wonders if he needs to kill the cat and burn it, too? He realizes that he had left the door to the kitchen open, so he closes it and reminds himself that cats can’t talk.
    • He gets his knife from his pocket and looks at the furnace. Can he do it? He sees a pile of newspapers, so he puts them under the head. Then he touches the knife to her white throat. Yes, he decides, he has to do this. So he starts to saw at her neck, but her head won’t come off.
    • He wants to run away but feels he has to do this. He has to burn her.
    • He sees a hatchet and realizes that’ll do the trick. So he gets the hatchet and chops. The head rolls off.
    • He wants to cry, he wants to go to sleep, but he has to do this thing. So he shoves the head in the furnace, wrapping it first with newspapers. Then the hatchet.
    • He wonders if there’s enough coal to burn the body? Nobody could come down here before 10 a.m. and it’s four a.m. So he wipes his knife with paper and puts the paper in the furnace. He pulls the lever and coal rattles in, covering the body, and the fire blazes bright.
    • He shuts the trunk and puts it in a corner. He decides to take it to the station in the morning and looks around to see if he’s cleaned everything up. It appears he has, so he goes out the back door.
    • It’s starting to snow. He sees the car in the driveway and thinks he’ll leave it there.
    • Bigger begins to rehearse the story in his head: "Jan and Marry were sitting in the car, kissing. They said, "Good night, Bigger"…And he said, "Good night…"
    • He sees the door open, Mary’s purse on the floor. He takes it and closes the door. Then he leaves the door open and walks down the driveway.
    • He takes the purse and walks. What should he do now? Run away? He sees that the purse is full of money. He hurries home and joins his family. He feels his gun, warm and wet, on his skin and hides it under the pillow.
    • He stretches out beside his brother Buddy and goes to sleep.
  • Book Two: Flight

    • 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.
    • He’s hungry.
    • 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.
    • Bigger faints.
  • Book Three: Fate

    • 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 the 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 a hundred 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 man 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 black people 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 hardhearted 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 feel 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.