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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
BOOK 2 - "Flight"
The newspaper proclaims that it is too elaborate a crime for a "Negro mind." Bigger wants to run out into the streets and proclaim that Jan did not help him, that he did it alone. The newspaper mentions the "tragedy of Communism and racial mixture." The newspaper displays a map with a shaded area and white area. The white area indicates the space where the police have yet to search.
He realizes it is likely that all the African American community is hating him for having brought the attack on them. Through a window, he sees three naked African American children watching their parents have sex. He had seen that sight many times as a child living five to a room. He is hungry. He has no place to stay. He goes out to the street and walks until he sees a "for rent" sign. He remembers how few empty places are available in the Black Belt. He remembers a time when his mother had to search for two months for place to live. The rental agencies had told him there were not enough houses for African --Americans to live in and that where they were living, the houses were falling apart and in need of being condemned as hazards. His family was once forced out of an apartment and two days later it had collapsed. He knows that African Americans pay twice the rent as European Americans for the same kinds of apartments. He thinks he should stop in the middle of the street and shout out the injustice of the housing discrimination in the city. He thinks that "surely all the black people round him would do something about it; so wrong that all the white people would stop and listen." However, he knows they would simply say he was crazy. He sees a big, black rat and looks wistfully at the hole into which the rat ran for safety.
He wants to go into a bakery to buy breakfast, but he has to find one owned by African Americans, since he thinks any one in a white owned bakery would recognize him. He knows that almost all the businesses in the Black Belt are owned by Jews, Italians, and Greeks. African Americans corner the market on funeral homes because white funeral parlors refuse to "bother with dead black bodies."
He buys a loaf of bread and continues walking until he sees a place for rent. Inside the empty apartment, he hears voices of two men discussing his case. One says he would never turn him in, the other says he would. He eats the bread and falls asleep. He wakes to hear music, "Stealing away to Jesus." It comes from a nearby church. "It mocked his fear and loneliness, his deep yearning for a sense of wholeness". He wonders if it would have been better to live in that world, "his mother's world, humble, contrite, believing." He knows that world of religion had a center, an axis, but one in which he can live only if he gives up hope of living in the world.
He goes out and finds another paper. He walks until he sees another "for rent" sign and as he tries to get in, a woman comes out and calls out to her companion within that she thinks she hears something. Bigger thinks that if she saw him, he would kill her. He climbs inside the window of the empty apartment and reads the newspaper. He sees a large picture of himself and above it the headline reads "24-Hour search fails to unearth rapist." It also announces that one thousand "Negro homes" have been searched and that a riot has been quelled. On the map of the Black Belt, only a small portion of white remains, indicating the search is almost completed. Numerous communist headquarters have also been raided.. Eight thousand men are involved in the search for Bigger. He finds a trapdoor leading to the roof and suddenly hears a siren.
A man calls out, "They's comin'!" Bigger climbs to the roof of the building. He hears the screams of the people being searched. He has a feeling that if he is cornered, he would act so he could die without shame. He hears a noise close by and sees a white face come into view on the roof. He holds his gun on the man, but the man fails to see him and moves on. He feels as if he has already frozen and that pieces of his body could be broken off. He hears voices of the police and vigilantes who are searching. They complain of being tired and feeling hopeless. He hears them leering over a woman whose home they have just searched. They say they cannot understand what "a nigger wants to kill a white woman for when he has such good-looking women in his own race.".
One of the policemen is hoisted onto the roof. Bigger is afraid his hand is too frozen to use the gun. He knocks the man in the head with his gun and runs. The man's partner comes onto the roof and finds him unconscious. They order the block to be surrounded. They spot Bigger on the roof. It is a four-story building and he is trapped. He shoots at the men, but misses each time. They shoot tear gas at him, but he is able to knock the canisters off the roof before he is overtaken by the fumes. He is surprised to realize he is not afraid. A part of him has gone behind a wall for self-protection. They spray water on him. He lets go of the gun. They get him. They drag him feet first down the steps. His head bumps down the steps. He hears them yelling, "Lynch 'im!" and "Kill the black ape!" Two men stretch out his arms on the ground "as though about to crucify him" and he loses consciousness.
Bigger's odd sense of freedom and power after his murder of Mary becomes an often-repeated idea of the novel. As a member of an ethnic group that is constantly under suspicion, Bigger is psychologically released when he lives up to the worst fears of his oppressors. He does not have to deny the charges leveled against his ethnic group every day in the paper. He does not have to live within the impossible space of correct and prescribed manners which European Americans expect out of him. He has violated their strongest taboo and is thereby--paradoxically--free of their control.
When Bigger imagines the power of fascist leaders such as Italy's Mussolini, he speculates on the benefit of having a fascist leader for African Americans. The appeal of fascism rests perhaps in its simplicity. It has one overwhelming and unquestioned figurehead. Such a simplistic solution to deep and abiding social problems was very attractive to many people of the first decades of the twentieth century, rich and poor. Fascism is the right wing answer to social and economic problems while communism is the left wing answer. Wright obliquely proposes the latter the collective action called for by communism, in which people would act in concert to free themselves instead of relying on one leader to free them.
Richard Wright understands the complex dynamics of racism. For Wright, as for many other analysts of racism, an insidious by-product of living as an African American in a society which constantly bombards one with racist stereotypes is the reality of internalized racism. Internalized racism happens when the hurts and condemnations of racism are turned within. People in the targeted group begin to believe the lies of the stereotypes. They believe they are bad, lowly, unworthy, and ugly and they believe the same of other members of their group. When Bigger beats Gus with overwhelming hatred and ferocity, he is acing out his internalized racism. It is as if he were trying to kill himself. When Bigger hits, rapes, kills, and then disposes of Bessie, he is acting out his internalized racism as well. However, with Bessie, Bigger is also acting out another social disease, sexism.
When Bigger has sex with Bessie the first night, before he tells her of his murder of Mary, he thinks of her as a fallow field. When Bigger thinks of Bessie on the second night, he fragments her individuality in his mind, seeing her both as the Bessie who is perfectly passive and the Bessie who is a demanding person with her own needs. He wishes he could kill the latter and completely dominate the former. When Bigger rapes Bessie, he hears her sigh in resignation, but remembers she has sighed like that many times before. It seems that the relationship has consisted of a number of more subtle rapes before Bigger openly ignores her cries of "No" to rape her the last time. Bigger does not connect her oppression as a woman to his oppression as an African --American. He does not see himself as her oppressor because he cannot grant her the same level of humanity that he sees in himself.
The plot of the novel rests on this view of women. The women Bigger kills are not granted humanity as are Jan and Bigger's male friends. Mary and Bessie are merely tools used to give Bigger access to his own humanity. His search for selfhood, his new sense of freedom, is accomplished at the expense of two women's lives.
In Book II, Wright does a thorough job of showing the operations of the United States press eagerly creating racial stereotypes. When the reporters are in the Dalton basement, they set to work reinforcing existing stereotypes. They get a small amount of information, and they immediately set to work fitting that information into the already existing stereotypes of African Americans, Jews, foreigners, and communists. Stereotype is an old printing term. It was a name for the metal plate that was used to produce and reproduce many copies of the same image. Wright makes it clear that the stereotype precedes the incidents surrounding Bigger's crimes. The press manufactures them and then filters every story through those simplistic images.
In this novel, Wright is especially focused on an analysis of housing discrimination. Bigger sees the problems with overcrowding, price-gouging, and spatial restriction with great clarity after he has been to the Dalton's house. He understands the larger picture much better with that contrast. He feels that if he could shout out the injustice of the housing, people should hear him and rally to resist the conditions, but that they would probably instead call him crazy. Here, Wright exposes the crazy-making society which condemns the clear-sighted as insane.