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Free Study Guide-Native Son by Richard Wright-Free Online Book Notes
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BOOK 2 - "Flight"

Summary (continued)

He sees a sign on a building that reads "This property is managed by the South Side Real Estate Company." It is Mr. Dalton's company. He charges eight dollars for a rat-infested room. He owns property all over the Black Belt. "Even though he gave millions to Negro education, he would not rent houses to them except in this prescribed area."

Bigger goes to Bessie's. She does not want to participate in the scheme. He threatens to hit her. He makes her lie on the bed while he writes out the kidnapping note. He struggles with what to write. He writes, "We got your daughter. She is safe. She wants to come home. Do not go to the police if you want your daughter back safe." He adds instructions about dropping off the ten thousand dollars in ransom money. He signs it "Red" and draws a communist logo of a sickle and hammer. Bessie has guessed that Bigger killed Mary Dalton. He seals the letter in the envelope and then lies on the bed and holds her. He sees she is afraid of him and he begins to doubt her commitment. He decides it would be easy to kill Bessie. He stands over her as she lies in bed. He tells her the police will come after him through her and she will tell if she is not in on it with him. He admits he killed Mary. He tells Bessie she has already spent some of Mary's money and so she is involved in the murder already. He pulls her up from the bed and gives her a drink of alcohol. She begs him not to make her do it. She tells him all she does is work. She says, "I'm black and I work and do not bother nobody." He threatens her with a knife. He thinks he will probably have to kill her before it is all over.

He makes her get into her coat and come outside with him. He takes her to an empty building where she is to wait. It is an abandoned building where wealthy white people used to live. It is like most of the homes on the South Side, "ornate, old, stinking; homes once of rich white people, now inhabited by Negroes or standing dark and empty." He remembers when African Americans first started moving into the South Side. European Americans would throw bombs into houses like this. Bessie is sobbing. She tells him she would rather he killed her than make her do this. He hits her across the face. He tells her to come to this building tomorrow night. When she sees a car come at midnight, she is to flash on the flashlight three times as a signal. She is to get the package and go home. He takes her to the street car and gives her the flashlight and seven cents.

He returns to the Dalton's with the kidnapping note. He slides it under the front door and then goes around the house and into the basement. He goes to the furnace, but cannot bring himself to look inside to see if Mary's body has fully burned. He pulls the lever for more coal and goes to his room. He lies down and suddenly remembers he did not dispose of his gloves, pencil and paper. He takes them to the furnace and burns them. He feels a wave of weakness and sinks to his knees. He realizes he has strained himself with lack of food and sleep. He goes to the kitchen and sees food covered under a napkin, but is unsure if it is for him. He laughs silently at the image of himself as the murderer of Mary who cannot bring himself to eat food that is surely for him. Peggy comes in carrying the kidnapping note. She tells him his food has been waiting for him. She goes to take the note to Mr. Dalton. He eats. Peggy returns to the kitchen and talks to him about all that has been happening with Mary's disappearance. She tells him to clean the ashes out of the furnace in the morning.

Mr. Dalton comes into the kitchen and asks Peggy where she got the note. Mrs. Dalton comes into the kitchen and asks her husband what is wrong. He tells her it is a kidnapping note. She screams and sobs. Peggy and the Daltons leave the kitchen, and Bigger remains alone. He thinks of leaving and realizes he is intensely eager to stay and see how it all ends. He hears Mr. Dalton call Britten. Bigger returns to his room and steps into his closet to listen for their conversation below.

After a while, he hears Britten questioning Peggy about him. She says he is "just like all the other colored boys." Britten asks if Bigger fakes ignorance, if he "waves his hands around a lot like he's been around a lot of Jews," if he calls anyone "comrade," and if he is generally polite and obsequious. Bigger hears Britten talking to someone about the likelihood that Mary has been killed by her kidnappers. He says Mr. Dalton plans to pay the ransom money. Mr. Dalton will not call the police in, Bigger hears someone say. In his room, Bigger tries his window to make sure it will open. It is two stories from the ground, but he decides he can jump from it if necessary.

Mr. Britten sends for Bigger and questions him further in the basement. As he passes the furnace, he sees Mary's bloody head in his thoughts. Britten asks him about Jan. Bigger decides to tell Britten all the things he knows European Americans hate to hear African Americans ask for a redistribution of wealth, opportunity for African Americans, and no more lynching. Bigger tells them Mary cried last night. Britten wants to know of Jan said anything to Bigger about white women. Bigger knows that most European American men hate the idea of sex between blacks and whites. He asks if Jan "layed the girl." Bigger knows "that whites thought all Negroes yearned for white women," so he shows "fearful deference even when one's name was mentioned in his presence."

The press comes to the house. The headlines of the papers read, "Red nabbed as girl vanishes." The reporters question Bigger. It scares Bigger when he sees they are out for sport. They try to bribe him. Britten returns from speaking to Mr. Dalton and tells the reporters that Mr. Dalton will not speak to them until Tuesday. Mr. and Mrs. Dalton come out to make a statement. Their white cat leaps on Bigger's shoulder. Pictures are taken. Mr. Dalton tells them that he will press no charges against Jan and he will not call in the police. The note has a Communist Party emblem on it and is signed by "Red." Soon some of the reporters go into the kitchen with Britten. Other reporters remain in the basement and look at Bigger suspiciously. They wander around in the basement. One man stands in front of the furnace, opens it and looks in. Bigger is "full of hysteria." All the men go upstairs with Britten to see Mary's room. Bigger reads the newspaper. The headlines announce that a Hyde Park heiress is missing and is believed to be hiding out with communists. It contains a picture of Jan and a picture of Mary. The men return to the basement and question Bigger. He evades their questions. A reporter comes down from using the kitchen phone and tells them Jan will not leave jail to prove that he is not connected with the kidnapping. Being in jail provides him with an alibi. Jan has told the press he thinks the Daltons are staging Mary's disappearance to hurt the communists.

The reporters question Bigger. They try to trap Bigger into revealing communist ideas. When they ask him what he thinks of private property, he says he does not own any property. They say he is just "a dumb cluck." Peggy brings the reporters coffee. They question Bigger further. They want to know about his eating with Mary and Jan.. One reporter is excited by the story. He tells the others, "These Negroes want to be left alone and these Reds are forcing 'em to live with 'em, see?" They add that it is better than Loeb and Leopold. Another reporter says he will slant the story to "the primitive Negro who does not want to be disturbed by white civilization." They decide to mention Jan's foreign-sounding name (Erlone). They take more pictures of Bigger.

Peggy tells Bigger to clean out the ashes, that there is not enough heat upstairs. He tries to shake them down instead of cleaning them out, but the ashes still choke the lower bin and no air can get to the fire. He pulls the lever for coal. Still the draft does not arise because the ashes choke the furnace. He pulls the lever for more coal. Smoke rolls out from the furnace filling the basement. The men start to advise him on how to empty the ashes. One reporter takes the shovel from Bigger. The men open the door to clear the smoke from the room The reporter finds bone and an earring. Bigger tiptoes upstairs and climbs out the window of his bedroom.

He goes to warn Bessie. He realizes running away is familiar to him. He had "always felt outside of this white world, and now it was true." It makes things simple. He buys a newspaper and sees the headline announcing the kidnapping. He sees another headline that reads "Reds tried to snare him" and sees his picture with the white cat on his shoulder. He feels the threat of a "white world" that can move so swiftly as to have the newspaper on the stands when the pictures were only taken two hours ago. He sees the picture of the Daltons as "a powerful symbol of helpless suffering" that would "stir up a lot of hate against him when it was found out that a Negro had killed Mary."

Bessie is frantic with fear. He decides to let her know the story in a way that would bind her to him because he does not want to be alone. She sobs with fear, saying they are going to come for her. He lets her believe this so she will come with him. He threatens to leave her if she does not stop crying. She begs him to take her with him. He tells her the story, that he did not mean to kill her, but that he "couldn't help it." He tells her he was in Mary's room, and Mary was drunk. He says when Mrs. Dalton came into the room he "just pulled the pillow over her face and she died."

She tells him they will say he raped her. He has not thought of that. He decides that in a way, he did rape her. He thinks "Rape is not what one did to women." "It was what one felt when one's back was against a wall and one had to strike out. He committed rape every time he looked into a white face."

He tells Bessie he put Mary in the furnace. He tells her they will hide in one of the abandoned houses. Bessie gives him three glasses of warmed milk. He tells her to bring her bedclothes. As they get out onto the street, Bessie hunches over her pile of bedclothes and cries that she does not care what happens to her. He thinks she is a dangerous burden to him. He knows he will have to get rid of her at some point and do so in a way that she will pose no threat to him. Bessie complains that he has only caused her trouble, "just plain black trouble." As she complains, he does not listen to her, but thinks that she is in no condition to be taken along and in no condition to be left behind. He sees what he must do to save himself and feels resolved to do it.

He finds an abandoned building and they enter it. They climb the steps to the third floor and he tells Bessie to unroll the bedclothes. It is very cold and Bessie is despairing. They lie down. He begins to have sex with her. She begs him not to. He hears her sigh with deep resignation. Even though he has heard this sigh before, he felt it was much deeper than before, as if she is surrendering something more than her body. She cries out, "Bigger, Do not!" but he does not listen to her and rapes her. When he finishes he thinks of what he will do to her when she goes to sleep. He remembers seeing two bricks lying in the room. He decides it is her own fault that he has to kill her, because she forced him to tell her what he had done to Mary Dalton. He decides he will throw her body out the window, down the air-shaft, where it will not be found until it begins to smell.

He waits until she falls asleep and bashes her head with a brick. He cannot tell how many times he brought the brick down on her head. He only knows the "job was done." He forces himself to turn the flashlight on her face to see if she is dead. He is afraid he will turn the light on her and see her looking at him with accusation. He turns the light on her and sees her bloody head. He throws the body down a narrow air-shaft, and hears it "hit and bump against the narrow sides" on its way down. He moves the pallet into another room. He realizes suddenly that he has thrown Bessie's body out the window and she had the money in her dress pocket. He knows he cannot go and retrieve the money because if he sees her again he will be overcome with guilt. He only has seven cents.

He has a queer sense of power. "He had brought all this about." He thinks these two murders are the most meaningful things that had ever happened to him. He is living truly and deeply. He had "never had the chance to live out the consequences of his actions; never had his will been so free as in this night and day of fear and murder and flight." He realizes that these murders were not his first. He feels that he has been wanting to face the people who hate his kind so much that they force them to live in a rotten corner of the city and then turn around and ask as Mary had, "I'd like to know how your people live."

He is not clear about what he wants, what he loves, and what he hates. He feels that it was only with the stress of hatred that the conflict within him was resolved. "He had been so conditioned in a cramped environment that hard words or kicks alone knocked him upright and made him capable of action." He hates his mother for her escape into religion, which he sees in direct parallel to Bessie's whisky. When he had read the newspapers and magazines, gone to the movies, or walked in crowds, he had felt he had found himself. He wanted to "Lose himself in it so he could find himself, to be allowed a chance to live like others, even though he was black." He feels as though when he committed murder twice, he had created a new world for himself.

The next morning he steals a newspaper. Its headlines announce that a hunt is on for him. It goes on to say that five thousand police surround the Black Belt. It is hinted to be a sex crime. He knows that these words mean he has already been condemned to death. He holds his gun while reading the paper.

The report adds that many windows in the African American section of town were smashed over night. Every "Negro home" is being searched under a blanket search warrant by the mayor. All schools are closed because the white citizens have petitioned the mayor in their fear of the "Negro rapist and murderer." Reports tell of African American men being beaten in several North and West Side neighborhoods. Many vigilantes have volunteered to help in the search and the police chief has accepted their help in light of the "recurring waves of Negro crime." Several hundred African American men were rounded up by the police, several hundred African American employees throughout the city have been dismissed from their jobs.

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