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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
BOOK 2 - "Flight"
Like Book I, Book II begins with Bigger waking up. He wakes up with a jolt. He realizes it is Sunday morning. He remembers what he did the night before and realizes he has to take Mary's trunk to the station. He sees Mary's purse laying out in the open. He sees blood on his knife blade and the pamphlets Jan had given him. First he thinks to throw them away, but then he decides to keep them to show the authorities if he is questioned. The pamphlets read "Race Prejudice on Trial," "The Negro Question in the United States," and "Black and white Unite and Fight." He sees a drawing of black and white hands locked in solidarity. He puts the purse and the knife in the garbage outside. He packs his suitcase. He pictures an image of Mary's head "lying on the wet newspapers, the curly black ringlets soaked with blood."
His mother awakens. He says he got in at two o'clock, but she corrects him and says it was later than that. They argue over it until Bigger realizes he should not impress the time on her mind so she will not remember it if questioned later. She questions him about the job. Finally, he says, "Oh Ma! For Chrissakes! You make me want to cry!" His mother continues with advice on keeping the good job he has. Vera wakes up and asks him about the job. Bigger is short with her and his mother scolds him. Vera screams, saying he is looking at her while she is dressing. Buddy wakes up and tells him he waited up until three o'clock for him and then fell asleep. Bigger says he got in earlier than that. Buddy begins to argue with him and then stops and says, "Okay." Buddy asks him easy questions about the kind of car he drives. Bigger feels better under Buddy's adoration of him. Bigger cannot stop thinking of the furnace, wondering if Mary burned. Buddy tells him that Bessie was there last night talking of marriage. Buddy suggests that now Bigger has a good job, he can get a better girlfriend than Bessie. Buddy says he heard of Bigger's fight with Gus.
Bigger sees the room as if for the first time. He asks himself why they have to live like this. He thinks of what he has done and forms "for the first time in his fear-ridden life a barrier of protection between him and the world he feared. He had murdered and created a new life for himself." He had acted all on his own. He thinks of his crime as "an anchor weighing him safely in time." He does not feel the need to tell himself that it was an accident. "He was black and had been alone in a room where a white girl had been killed; therefore, he had killed her." He decides that the thing to do was to act just like others acted and "while they were not looking, do what you wanted." He feels that his mother, sister, and brother are blind. Who would think he would do it? He thinks Jan and Mary, Mr. and Mrs. Dalton are all blind (note: Mrs. Dalton is physically blind; no relation to the statement.).
His mother serves him breakfast. He asks her for money to avoid suspicion, even though he has the money from Mary's purse. His mother gives him fifty cents and tells him she only has fifty cents to last until Wednesday. He sees Buddy in the light of Jan. He decides that Buddy, too, is blind. Buddy wants a job like his. He is going "round and round in a groove and did not see things." Buddy wants to know why Bigger is looking at him in such a way. His mother comes into the room and he notices her shapelessness. She is tired and uses furniture as support as she walks around the room. He sees that Vera has the same look of tiredness that his mother has. He sees the sharp contrast between Vera and Mary. Vera "seemed to be shrinking from life in every gesture she made. The very manner in which she sat showed a fear so deep as to be an organic part of her." Vera wails at him to stop staring at her.
He leaves and Buddy follows him outside. He has dropped money. Buddy thinks Bigger is in trouble and wants to help. Bigger gives Buddy one of the bills. He grabs Buddy's arm and hurts Buddy, telling him not to tell anyone, then he walks away. He sees G.H. at the drug store and buys him a package of cigarettes. He feels very excited. Jack comes in and Bigger buys him cigarettes, too. He lets them see his roll of money. Gus arrives and Bigger buys him cigarettes. He gives each one a dollar and then buys them each a beer and leaves. He realizes it is the first time he has been in their presence without being fearful.
He takes the street car to the Daltons' house. He wonders if any of the "white faces all about him think he had killed a rich white girl." He decides they would never think that. They would only think of him as a petty thief, a rapist, a drunkard, or a fighter. He repeats his new motto "Act like other people thought you ought to act, yet do what you wanted."
He cannot get the image of Mary's bloody head out of his mind. He decides Mary made him do it. She should have left him alone. He feels the murder was "amply justified by the fear and shame she had made him feel." He feels the tension of his life lift from him. The narrator remarks that "To Bigger and his kind white people were not really people; they were a sort of great natural force." The African Americans in the city did not go beyond certain limits to avoid this "white force." They paid "mute tribute to it" when they lived in their prescribed corner of the city. Bigger had often felt the desire to reach out to other African American people in solidarity to resist the "white force," but he had always felt too much difference between himself and them to unite with them. He sees the African American people walking on the sidewalks as he rides past them on the street car and thinks the only way things can get better is if all of the African American people acted together and were ruled to go in one direction whole-heartedly. He had liked lately to hear of men who ruled other people. He had heard of Japan conquering China, of Mussolini invading Spain, of Hitler killing the Jews. He did not consider the morality of these acts, only that they would help him escape. He wishes for an African American man to "whip the black people into a tight band and together they would act and end fear and shame." He knew he had fought Gus yesterday because of fear. He felt that European Americans "ruled him by conditioning him in his relations to his own people."
He arrives at the Dalton house and sees the car still parked in the front. Images of Mary's severed head dominate his thoughts. He imagines himself running away, but decides to continue on. He goes to the basement and sees Peggy at the furnace. She tells him he needs to add more coal. He keeps seeing images of Mary's body. He wonders if he will have to kill Peggy. She questions him about the car in the driveway. He tells her Mary told him to leave it out. She leaves and he stands still for a long time. He looks around the basement for signs of what happened there last night. He sees a piece of bloody newspaper. He looks inside the furnace and sees no signs of the body, only his own image of it. He sees an impression of Mary's body in the furnace "Like the oblong mound of fresh clay of a newly made grave, the red coals revealed the bent outline of Mary's body." He has the feeling that if he touches the coals, Mary's body would come out of them unburnt. He throws the newspaper inside and shuts the fan off since there is no chance of a scent now. He pulls the lever for more coal. He cannot poke around in the fire for fear that some part of Mary is still there.
He puts the communist papers in his room. He runs back to the furnace to shake the ashes down so the fire will keep burning. When he tries to do so, a vivid image of Mary's face comes to him and he steps back. He takes the trunk and carries it to the car. He gets behind the steering wheel to wait for Mary. After waiting five minutes, he rings for Peggy, who tells him Mary is not there and that he should take the trunk to the station. She asks him again if Mary told him to leave the car out all night. He tells her Jan was in the car. Peggy assumes Mary was "up to some of her pranks," and tells him to take the trunk to the station. He drops the trunk off at the station and returns to the Daltons.
He goes to the kitchen, thinking to avoid suspicion by going through a normal routine. Peggy asks him if he wants breakfast. He feels kindly toward her because he feels as if he has something valuable which she cannot take away from him even if she despised him. Jan calls. After speaking to him, Peggy complains about Mary's "wild ways" but consoles herself that it is only a phase and that Mary will some day settle down.
After breakfast, Bigger goes back down to the basement. He inspects it closely for any signs of the previous night. He goes to his room and lies down He hears Mrs. Dalton talking to Peggy in the kitchen below. He hears them easily when he opens his closet door. Mrs. Dalton is asking Peggy about the car staying out all night long. Mrs. Dalton is worried. She says it is not like Mary to neglect to leave a note. Peggy tells Mrs. Dalton Mary was with Jan last night. Peggy speculates that Mary left with Jan again, like the time she went away with him to Florida. Peggy thinks Mary had Jan call to see if the family knew yet if she was gone. She tells Mrs. Dalton that Mary's bed was not slept in, that it looks as if someone stretched out on it and then left. Mrs. Dalton tells Peggy she knows Mary was drunk last night, that she had gone to Mary's room and could tell she was drunk. The voices are silent for a while and then Bigger hears Mrs. Dalton tell Peggy she has just been up to Mary's room and has found tht Mary did not finish packing her trunk. Bigger becomes afraid because he cannot think of how to explain why Mary would have had him carry her half-packed suitcase downstairs. He decides he will just tell them he did as he was told. He goes over his story again, thinking through every detail.