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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
BOOK 2 - "Flight"
Mrs. Dalton knocks on his door and questions him. She asks him about each step of the story and when she asks if Mary had him come to her room to get the trunk, he revises his story and tells her Jan went up to Mary's room with her. He knows Mrs. Dalton wants to ask more questions but will not because of the social distance between them. She gives him the rest of the day off. He decides to go and see Bessie. On his way out he goes through the basement. He sees that there is enough coal to last until he comes back.
He realizes he has not thought of Bessie in the last day and night. "He had no need to think of her. But now he had to forget and relax and he wanted to see her." He reassures himself that the Daltons would not suspect him because he is African --American. He feels the money in his pocket and the gun against his skin. He is bothered that he did not get more money out of the whole business. He thinks he should have planned it. He decides that next time he will plan and arrange so that he will have enough money to keep him for a long time.
He looks around at the white passengers on the street car. He has an impulse to stand up and shout out that he had killed Mary Dalton. "He wished that he could be an idea in their minds; that his black face and the image of his smothering Mary and cutting off her head and burning her could hover before their eyes as a terrible picture of reality which they could see and feel and yet not destroy."
He gets to Bessie's apartment and reaches for her. She pulls away. She wants to know what he was doing with two European Americans last night. She wonders why he only waved her away, if he was ashamed of her "sitting there with that white gal all dressing in silk and satin." He grabs her and kisses her hard. He feels that she is not responding, but tells her to take him inside her apartment. Bessie keeps asking about Mary Dalton jealously. He realizes she is teasing him and he likes it because it takes away the image of Mary's bloody head. He shows her money to calm her. She wants to know where he got it. He keeps answering with the question, "Are you going to be sweet to me?" She counts it out as one hundred and twenty-five dollars. They undress and get into bed. "He felt two soft palms holding his face tenderly and the thought and image of the whole blind white world which had made him ashamed and afraid fell away as he felt her as a fallow field beneath him." They have sex. It makes him peaceful like he did not need to long for a home now.
She asks him where the house is where he works. She tells him she used to work in that section. She tells him it was where one of the families of one of the boys who killed the Franks boy. She tells him it was the Loeb and Leopold case. They killed a boy and tried to get money from the boy's family. It gives him the idea to do the same with the Daltons. Bessie keeps questioning him about the money. He decides to use Bessie in the scheme. She keeps asking him questions, wondering if he trusts her and loves her. He thinks of how blind she is. "He felt the narrow orbit of her life from her room to the kitchen of the white folks was the farthest she ever moved." She worked long hours for a white family and only had Sundays off " and when she did get off, she wanted fun, hard and fast fun, something to make her feel that she was making up for the starved life she led." She wanted liquor, and he wanted her, so he gave her liquor for sex. He feels that if he did not give her liquor, she would find someone else who would. He debates on what to tell her of his actions. He decides he needs to tell her in such a way that she thinks she knows everything. He tells her to give him time and he will tell her. They go out. As he walks beside her, he thinks there are two Bessies; one is just a body for sex, and the other is the person who asks him endless questions and "bargains and sells the other Bessie to advantage. He wished he could clench his fist and swing his arm and blot out, kill, sweep away the Bessie on Bessie's face and leave the other helpless and yielding before him."
They go to the Paris Grill. After bargaining with her with hypothetical questions, he tells her Mary Dalton ran away with a communist. He tells her his plan to send a ransom note. What if she shows up, Bessie asks. He tells her she will not. She becomes suspicious, assuming he killed her. He blackmails her with the jobs she told him about at the homes of her white employers. She offers objections to his plans, ways they could get caught, and Bigger responds to each one with an easy and prepared answer. He tells her they can go to New York's Harlem if they have money. Still, she resists. They leave the grill and continue to argue in the snow on the walk home. She tries to convince him to stay with her the way they have been and to forget about his plan. He tries to walk away from her, but she follows him and embraces him. She relents and says she will do it for him. He leaves and feels assured that she is with him in his plan. He feels confident. He walks back to the Dalton house.
Bigger is confident because he imagines that everyone around him is blind. He feels he has his destiny in his grasp. He no longer suffers with shame and anger at being African American in a racist country. He feels strong in the knowledge that he killed Mary, just as he used to feel when he held his gun and knife. He no longer feels like he is stifling under an invisible and powerful force. In the Dalton's basement, he sees the ashes are piling up in the furnace. He decides he will have to clean them out tomorrow morning. Peggy tells him to pick up the trunk, that it was not retrieved in Detroit and Mary never arrived there. Mrs. Dalton calls him up to the kitchen. Mr. Dalton questions him. Bigger tells him that he went to Mary's room with Mary and Jan and carried the half-empty trunk down to the basement. He sees Mrs. Dalton signal to Mr. Dalton to stop questioning Bigger so closely. Bigger senses that she is ashamed that her daughter was drunk and with a man in her room. Mr. Dalton thinks Mary is "up to some of her foolish pranks." Bigger is sent to the station to pick up the trunk. On the drive, he decides what he will write in his kidnapping note. He returns with the trunk, brings it to the basement, and tries to open its metal clasp.
He is startled by someone calling his name and whirls around to see what seems like "an army of white men." He realizes it is only Mr. Dalton and another man, Mr. Britten, a private investigator at Mr. Dalton's office. Mr. Britten tries to open the trunk. When he finds it is locked, Mr. Dalton asks Bigger for a hatchet. He thinks for a moment about running away while acting like he is looking for it, but decides to stay. He pretends to search for it in the spot he had found it last night when he had used it to cut off Mary's head. Britten kicks the lock open and looks inside the trunk. Mr. Dalton and Britten discuss the unlikelihood of Mary taking a half-full trunk.
They question Bigger. He tells them he did not take her to the university, but to see Jan. He decides it is his word against Jan's and Jan is a communist. He tells them Mary passed out from being drunk. Britten says Mary could not have left the house on her own power. Bigger tells them it was Jan who told him to take the trunk and not to put the car away. Britten asks him what Jan told him about the Party and Bigger does not understand he means the Communist Party. Britten thinks Bigger is a communist. He grabs Bigger and pushes him against the wall. He has found the pamphlets that Jan gave Bigger the night before. Mr. Dalton stops this line of questioning. He believes Bigger knows nothing about communism.
Bigger recognizes that Britten is a racist and thinks he is guilty just because he is black. He hates Britten with a murderous rage. Bigger tells Mr. Dalton he will leave if Mr. Dalton wants him to, that he did not want to come to work for him in the first place. Mr. Dalton apologizes to him for the harsh accusations and tells him to stay on and do his work. He sends Bigger up to his room.
In his room, he can hear them talking when he listens through his closet floor. He hears Mr. Britten tell Mr. Dalton "a nigger's a nigger." Mr. Dalton tells him Bigger is a problem boy, but "not really bad." Britten tells Mr. Dalton "you gotta be rough with them." Bigger hears them leaving. He decides he will know how to handle Britten next time. "Britten was familiar to him; he had met a thousand Brittens in his life." The knowledge that he killed their symbol of beauty makes him feel equal to them. He sees it as evening the score.
He falls asleep. He dreams that he is running and carrying something heavy and slippery. He gets to an alley and opens it and finds it is his own head. He can find no place to hide. When the people catch up to him, he hurls the head at them. He awakens to hear a bell ringing.
Britten knocks at his door and pushes into his room. He sees that Jan is with Mr. Britten and Mr. Dalton. Jan is incredulous. Bigger hates him because he knows he is hurting him with his lies. He feels terrible guilt. Jan thinks they are making Bigger lie. Initially Jan lies about having seen Mary in an attempt to protect her from getting into trouble, but then he begins to tell the truth. He tells them he did not come to the Dalton house last night. Mr. Dalton tries to bribe Jan to tell him where Mary is. Jan leaves. Mr. Dalton looks at Bigger questioningly and asks him if he is really telling the truth. Bigger affirms that he is. Bigger goes down to the basement. He looks at the furnace and cannot bring himself to clean out its ashes.
Bigger leaves for his home and he runs into Jan. He holds a gun on Jan to get him to run away. A white woman comes upon him still holding the gun. She runs. He continues on, thinking of Jan. He realizes Jan is stronger than he had predicted and realizes he will have to send the kidnapping note quickly before Jan proves his own innocence. He buys an envelop, paper, and a pencil and takes a street car to his part of town. He looks for a building from which Bessie can receive the ransom money. He buys a flashlight.