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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
BOOK 1 - "Fear"
The others leave. Bigger threatens Doc with his gun. He cuts the felt on the pool table with a knife and walks away. He walks past Blum's delicatessen and sees Blum is alone and the store is empty of customers. He feels tears on his cheeks. He goes home and sits at the window. He hears his mother doing her washing on a metal washboard. He knows his actions with his friends put an end to his being with them for any more robberies. "As long as he can remember, he had not been responsible to anyone." Whenever he has found himself in a difficult situation, he has rebelled. He has "passed his days trying to defeat or gratify powerful impulses in a world he feared." He decides to take the gun with him to the Daltons because he feels he would be safer with it. It would make him feel equal to them. At five o'clock, he gets up to leave for the Daltons.
He wonders if the Daltons will be like the white people he saw in the movie that afternoon. He goes into the white neighborhood scared and unsure of himself. He had not thought this world would be so different from his own that it would intimidate him. He cannot decide whether he is supposed to go in the front or the back door. He cannot figure out how to get to the back door, so he rings the front bell. A white woman answers the door and lets him in. He is afraid he will touch her as he passes her. He waits uncomfortably while she gets Mr. Dalton. He follows Mr. Dalton and sees the blind Mrs. Dalton, who asks him about his background. She asks how far he went in school. He responds that he went through the eighth grade. She tells Mr. Dalton that they "should evoke an immediate feeling of confidence" in Bigger. He cannot understand her. He feels "strangely blind." Only as Mrs. Dalton walks away does Bigger realize she is blind.
He talks with Mr. Dalton, who tells him he is very interested in "colored people." Bigger cannot find the relief papers in his pocket. He fumbles so much that he hates himself. "He had not raised his eyes to the level of Mr. Dalton's face once since he had been in the house. He stood with his knees slightly bent, his lips partly open, his shoulders stooped; an his eyes held a look that went only to the surface things." Bigger acts the way he feels white people want him to act. Finally he finds the paper.
Mr. Dalton notices his address and asks if he pays rent to the South Side Real Estate Company. Bigger knows that is Mr. Dalton's company. He asks how much rent Bigger pays. Bigger tells him that he pays eight dollars a week for one room. Bigger tells him that he is twenty years old. Bigger suddenly remembers his mother telling him not to look at the floor when talking to white people or when asking for a job. He lifts his eyes, but drops them immediately. Mr. Dalton asks about Bigger's record. He reassures him that he need not feel ashamed, that he, too, had once been a boy, and knows how things are. He offers Bigger a cigarette. Bigger lies and tells Mr. Dalton he did not steal when he was sent to reform school. Mr. Dalton tells him he has the job and will be paid twenty-five dollars a week, five dollars over the going rate. Bigger will live in a room at the Dalton's.
Mary Dalton enters. She asks Bigger if he belongs to a union. He does not understand why or what she is asking and he feels that she is bothering him when he is trying to get a job. He hates her. He knows nothing about unions except that they were considered bad. She sticks her tongue out at her father playfully, calls her father "Mr. Capitalist" and asks Bigger "Isn't he a capitalist?" Bigger doesn't know what the word means. Before she leaves the room, she asks her father to let Bigger drive her to her lecture at the university that night. "He had never seen anyone like her before." Mr. Dalton goes out and talks to Mary, then returns to the room and looks down at a paper in front of him. Bigger fears that Mary Dalton has ruined his chances at the job. He finds himself growing in anger at her. Mr. Dalton tells him he is hiring him because he is a supporter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Bigger has never heard of the organization. Mr. Dalton rings for the housekeeper, Peggy, to show Bigger to his room and explain his duties and he tells Bigger to drive Mary to the university that evening and then wait for her.
Peggy shows him to the kitchen where dinner is cooking. She tells him that the furnace will be one of his duties. Peggy gives him bacon and eggs to eat. While he eats, he thinks the job will be good except for Mary. She is not like the rich woman he saw in the movies. Peggy praises the Daltons. She tells Bigger "the last colored man who worked for us stayed ten years." He took a job with the government after he went to night school She says Mrs. Dalton is always trying to help somebody. Peggy tells him she has worked for the Daltons for twenty years. She says the Daltons have millions of dollars but do not "put on airs." She says they are all "one big family." She tells Bigger that Mr. Dalton does a lot for "your people." Bigger wonders, "My people?" Peggy says, "yes, the colored people." She tells him Mr. Dalton gave over five million dollars to African American schools.
Peggy is Irish. She tells Bigger that her people in Ireland feel about the English the way the African Americans feel about the United States. She tells Bigger Mary is sweet but that she is wild and runs around with "reds" (communists)." Bigger is shocked. Peggy explains that Mary is like her parents in that she feel sorry for people and she thinks the "reds" will do something for them. She shows him to the car and the furnace in the basement. He is pleased by the furnace, which does not require shoveling and only requires him to clean out the ashes.
Peggy shows him to his large room. Next, Peggy shows him the car. She tells him that he is free until eight-thirty when he will take Mary to her meeting. He goes back to his room. The walls are covered with pictures of boxers, left over from the previous chauffeur, Green. It is also filled with pictures of movie stars. He cannot believe he has a room all to himself. He thinks he will bring Bessie here some evening. He will bring liquor and be able to drink in peace rather than sneaking around with it. He decides this will be an easy life except for Mary. She is unlike the white women he knows who are much more reserved.
He goes downstairs to the kitchen. "Though he did not know it, he walked on tiptoes." He sees Mrs. Dalton in the kitchen. He feels very uneasy looking at her. He feels she can hear everything. She asks him if he is the new "boy." He gets a glass of water. She asks him if he likes his room, if he is a careful driver, how far he went in school, if he ever thought of going back to school. She tells him of Green, who got an education while working for them.
He leaves to get the car. He thinks Mrs. Dalton gives him a similar feeling that his mother gives him, the difference being that he felt his mother wanted him to do things she wanted him to do and Mrs. Dalton wanted him to do things he wanted to do. He drives the car around to pick up Mary. She gets in and he heads south toward the university. He watches her in the rear view mirror. He thinks she is "kind of pretty, but very little. She looked like a doll in a show window." She tells him to stop before they arrive at the university. She asks him if she scares him. She asks him if he is a "tattle-tale." Then she tells him she is not going to the university, but that he should tell anyone who asks that she did. She says, "After all, I'm on your side." He has no idea of what she means by that. She tells him she is going to take him to meet a friend of hers and his. He is confused. He wonders if she is talking about the "reds."
He worries that Mr. Dalton has someone watching them. He worries he will be found out in a lie. He does not want to meet any communists. He feels it is fine for a man to go to jail for stealing, but to go to jail for involvement with communists would be foolish. She is smiling at him, almost laughing. He feels "she knew every feeling and thought he had at that moment."
She gets out of the car and tells him he will understand it "better bye and bye." She asks him if "his" people have a song that goes like that. He finds her odd. She responds to him as if he were an equal and he lived in the same world she did. He had never felt that in a white person before. He fears that it is a game she is playing. He remembers seeing cartoons of communists in the newspapers. They always "had flaming torches in their hands and wore beards and were trying to commit murder or set things on fire." Mary comes out of the building and introduces Bigger to Jan, who holds his hand out to Bigger. "Bigger's entire body tightened with suspense and dread." He wonders if he should shake hands with a white man. Finally he does and Jan holds onto his hand smiling. He tells Bigger not to call him "sir." Mary tells him it is okay, that "Jan means it." He feels strong anger at her, thinking she is laughing at him. He feels foolish holding Jan's hand. He feels that they make "him feel his black skin by just standing there looking at him. He felt he had no physical existence at all right then; he was something he hated, the badge of shame which he know was attached to a black skin." He feels naked and transparent. He feels that this white man, "who had helped to deform him, held him up now to look at him and be amused." He hates Jan and Mary.
Jan drives. Bigger is forced to sit in the middle of the front seat between them. "He was sitting between two vast white looming walls. Never in his life had he been so close to a white woman." Bigger hears them exclaiming over the beauty of the evening. Jan tells Bigger some day we will own the skyline, "after the revolution." He tells Bigger after the revolution "there will be no black and no white; there'll be no rich and no poor." They make him feel things he does not want to feel.
They tell him they want to go to a real place to eat on the South Side, where "colored people eat." Mary puts her hand on his arm and tells him she has always wanted to go inside the apartment buildings on either side of them and "just see how your people live." She adds that even though she has been all over the world, she does not know the people who live only ten blocks away from her. She tells him she has never been in the home of an African American family but she feels that "they must live like we live. They're human." He envisions himself standing over the car as a giant and taking some heavy object and obliterating the car with him and them in it. He tells them about Ernie's Kitchen Shack.
When they arrive, they urge him to come in with them until he finally consents angrily. Mary holds his arm and tells him he does not have to come in unless he wants to, that they are not trying to make him feel badly. Mary sways back and Jan catches her. She cries softly. Inside, he sees Jack and Bessie, his girl friend. Jan and Mary eat, but Bigger cannot swallow the food. Jan orders two rounds of beer, then he orders rum. They ask him questions, where he was born, how far he went in school, why he stopped at the eighth grade, how long he has been in Chicago. He tells them his father was killed in a riot in Mississippi when Bigger was a child. Jan tells him that is the sort of thing the communists want to stop. Jan asks him "do not you think if we got together we could stop things like that?" Bigger responds, "There's a lot of white people in the world." He is feeling the alcohol. Jan mentions the Scotsboro boys and asks Bigger if he thinks the communists did well to keep them from being executed. Bigger realizes he is getting drunk enough to look straight at them.
Mary tells him she is leaving for Detroit at nine the next morning and she wants him to take her trunk down to the station. She tells him to come for the trunk at eight-thirty.
They leave the restaurant and get back into the car. Bigger gets behind the wheel and Jan and Mary get in the back seat. They tell him to drive them around the park. They kiss and drink. He overhears their conversation about a demonstration in which three communists were arrested, two of whom were African American women. Jan tells Mary they need three thousand dollars for bail. Mary tells him she will send him a check. He tells her he has been working with Max, a lawyer for the communists, all day long trying to raise bail money. Bigger tries to understand their talk, but cannot. Mary tells him she plans to join the party when she comes out of school in the spring. She tells him she wants "to work among Negroes. That's where people are needed. It seems as though they've been pushed out of everything." She asks Jan if he knows very many African Americans. She wants to meet some. "They have so much emotion! What a people! If we could ever get them going . . . " She asks Bigger if he can sing. She sings "Sing Low, Sweet Chariot." very badly. Bigger smiles derisively. He sees them drinking heavily in the back seat. They hand him the bottle.
Mary has Bigger drop Jan off at the streetcar. She gets in front with Bigger. Jan gives Bigger some pamphlets. As he drives Mary home, she sprawls in the front seat, drunk, and leans her head on his shoulder. He sees that her legs are spread and the top of her stocking is showing. He feels hatred for her. He has to carry her to her room because she cannot walk. He wonders what a white man would do if he saw him holding her. He sees that she is "beautiful, slender, with an air that made him feel that she did not hate him with the hate of other white people. But, for all that, she was white and he hated her."
She tells him to take her by way of the basement so they will not wake anyone. At the kitchen, he tells her she has to get to her room. She passes out. "His fingers felt the soft curves of her body and he was still, looking at her, enveloped in a sense of physical elation. This little bitch! he thought." He carries her up the stairs, afraid someone will come upon him. He does not know which room is hers. He rouses her long enough to find out. He enters her room and closes the door behind him. "His sense reeled from the scent of her hair and skin." He kisses her and touches her breast.