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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
BIGGER'S FINAL TALK WITH MAX
Bigger and Max talk once more. Max encourages Bigger to believe in himself, and Bigger responds by affirming the value of his killings.
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Bigger wishes that he could mingle with others and break out of his isolation before he dies. A white priest had visited him recently, and he had thrown coffee in the cleric's face. From that action, Bigger gained the same satisfaction as from his talk with Max. Apparently his old angry pride and his new desire to communicate coexist within him.
Max sends Bigger a telegram. The governor has rejected Bigger's plea for clemency. Bigger must die. Shortly thereafter, Max visits Bigger for the last time.
Max tries to comfort Bigger in the face of death, but instead of being comforted,
Bigger wants to communicate his feelings to Max, and he wants Max to help
him resolve his conflicts. He reminds Max of the night they spoke and
says that Max had helped him see himself and others more truly. He wonders
if the people sending him to the electric chair might have much the same
feelings he has.
Max replies by talking about the people who own property and control society. They have the same feelings as the rest of us, he says, but they make themselves believe that others, like blacks and workers, are not human. On both sides, people are fighting for their lives, but only one side will win. He urges Bigger to believe in himself, for those who believe in themselves can contribute to the social struggle.
Max and Bigger don't seem to understand all of what the other is saying. Bigger doesn't appear to grasp Max's concept of a society divided into two contending classes-workers and capitalists. But Bigger responds to Max's call for him to believe in himself. Believing in himself does not necessarily mean believing in what Max wants, however. Bigger reaffirms himself by reaffirming the value of his killings. What Bigger says makes Max afraid and upset, but Bigger now feels "all right." As Max leaves, Bigger tells him to say hello to Jan, the man who had once made Bigger feel shame and hatred. Now Bigger calls Jan by his first name, just as Jan had once asked him to. Apparently, Bigger has found his own way toward contact with others.
Why didn't Wright let Max and Bigger come to complete agreement? Some readers feel that Wright was sympathetic to Max's position but that he wanted a realistic conclusion. Perhaps he did not think that a conclusion in which an alienated black youth was readily converted to a socialist view of politics would be believable, either in light of the novel itself or of the political conditions of Wright's time.
On the other hand, like Jan earlier in the novel, Max may not have been able to see Bigger as an individual. He thinks that blacks, as a group, should behave in a certain way, that they should be activists. Max wants Bigger to believe in himself, but Max thinks he knows what form Bigger's self-affirmation should take. You may have occasionally had people advise you to stand up for yourself but not like it when you stand up against them. To be true to himself, Bigger may have to take a different path from the one Max has marked out. At the end, Bigger affirms himself by refusing to repudiate his violence. But he also learns to reach out to others for the first time. Is Wright suggesting that given existing social conditions, violence was the only way Bigger could be true to himself? Or is he implying that if people like Max and Jan had approached him earlier, he might have taken a different course?