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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Richard reads a lot of revolutionary literature and gets insight into Communist thought. He is inspired to write biographical sketches of Communist Negroes. In the meantime, he is asked to present a report on his work, at the unit meeting of the Communist party. Thus, he attends his first unit meeting in the Black Belt of the South Side. He is welcomed heartily and he reads his report. However, the members respond poorly to his report. They fail to understand the purpose of his writing and dub him as an intellectual. The black Communists are conservatives and fail to appreciate his point of view. Richard is very disappointed.
Richard starts his biographical sketch with Ross, a rebel Negro Communist. Ross welcomes him home and agrees to talk about his life. They come to an arrangement that Richard would visit Ross every morning and take notes for two hours. Richard is excited about his new work and plans to present an authentic portrayal of a Negro Communist. However, when word spreads about his meetings with Ross, the party members start hounding him with questions. They warn him against his intellectual moves. Ross and Richard are no longer able to talk freely. Richard decides to convert the biography into stories and ultimately publishes Big Boy Leaves Home.
Richard is plagued by problems, both at home and outside. He loses his job and shifts with his family to a small attic. Later, he gets a job at the South Side Boys club, but the salary he gets is just enough to buy them two square meals a day. However, he is happy in the company of boys as it relieves him from the tensions outside. The Communists suspect his intentions and warn him of dire consequences if he fails to obey their rules.
Richard is asked by the party to attend conferences as a writer and as a member of the John Reed club. He attends the conferences with enthusiasm but is disappointed, as the members do not offer suggestions to improve the image of the club. A few of the members talk about dissolving the old club and starting a new one. No one bothers about Richard’s opinion. The New York Congress of Writers disappoints him more. The authorities do not offer him any accommodation. And at the meeting, a resolution is passed to dissolve the clubs. Richard feels defeated and decides to sever all connections with the party. The party members keep criticizing him. Tension and overwork leads to chest ailment and Richard is confined to bed. A party worker asks him to meet Buddy Nealson. After his recovery, he meets the Black Negro Communist leader. Nealson asks him to write against the rising prices. Richard dislikes the job, but decides to act according to the wishes of the leader. At the end of the month, Nealson’s comrade Smith offers Richard jobs, in Switzerland and Soviet Union. Richard declines the offer. At the next meeting, Richard submits his resignation.
Richard feels relieved that he is out of the party. However, the party workers refuse to accept his resignation and threaten him of adverse consequences, if he leaves the party. Richard now feels trapped. In the meantime, he is appointed as a publicity agent in the Federal Negro Theatre. With a view to improve the image of the theatre, he appoints DeSheim as the new director. The new director gets ready to guide the actors to play their characters in Paul Green’s Hymn to the Rising Sun. As Richard waits for the play to go on the floor, the actors refuse to co- operate. Richard and DeSheim are transferred to another department.
Richard is now offered the job of a publicity agent, for a White experimental theatre. In the meantime, the Communist party workers call him to attend the trial of Ross. Richard sits through the trial. After his own friends speak against him, Ross accepts the charges made by the party. Richard feels revolted by the proceedings and walks out of the trial even before it ends. He later recollects his involvement with the party in the past.
This is the longest chapter in the novel. Perhaps, Richard wants to reveal his disillusionment with the Communist party in stages and hence, explains his struggle at length. Richard joins the party with the intention of contributing his might to the development of the Negro community. He desires to echo the voice of the Great Lenin. However, the party does not appreciate his work. After he reads out the report regarding his work at the Black Belt unit meeting, the members ridicule him. Richard feels dejected but does not give up his efforts.
He decides to write biographical sketches of Negro communist workers in order to highlight the struggle of the Negroes. However, when he starts talking to the rebel Communist member Ross and notes down points on his life, party men who suspect his intentions, disturb him. Later, they try to arrest his creativity by asking him to write on rising prices. And finally, they dissolve the clubs and halt his efforts to encourage new writers. Richard resigns from the party but he is not left alone. The party workers threaten him with punishment. They make him attend the trial of Ross with the intention of warning him against his anti-party activities.
The Communists thus try to kill the writer in Richard by rejecting his talent and creating fear in his heart. Richard feels dejected but not disheartened. Even after being confronted by the horrors of Communist extremism, he hopes to see its glory some day.
The chapter exposes the negative character of the Communists, the black communists in particular. The Negro communists rigidly conform to norms and refuse to accept new ideas. Thus, when Richard expresses his desire to propagate Negro Communist ideology through his writings, they fail to understand his intentions. Ignorant of the affairs of the world and creative activity, they are at a loss to appreciate the talent of Richard. They call him an intellectual, a ‘bourgeois’ and a ‘Trotskyite.’
As Richard starts writing the biographical sketch of Ross, they suspect him of being a rebel. They even warn him of dire consequences. One of the extremists asks Richard to prove his allegiance to the party by indulging in violence. These Communists believe in showing themselves as brutes, in order to express their solidarity with the party. They accuse people easily and make them their enemies. They force Ross to confess his crime and seek their pardon. In order to cover up their insecurity, they indulge in pressure tactics to frighten Richard to give in to their wishes. In the process, they expose themselves as confused individuals who are also autocratic and ruthless.