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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
BOOK 3 -"Fate"
Bigger experiences neither day nor night. He does not feel any fear or hate. He refuses to speak. He refuses to eat food, drink water or smoke the cigarettes the jailers give him. They have moved him from jail to jail. For the three days since his capture he had pushed the image of what he had done from his mind.
He had killed Mary accidentally, and in doing so, he had "sensed a possible order and meaning in his relations with the people about him." He had accepted responsibility for the murder when it made him feel free for the first time in his life. He had felt an obscure need to be at home with people in his plan to go to Harlem and hence had demanded ransom money to do so. Since he has failed at everything he has done, he chooses not to struggle anymore. "Out of the mood of renunciation, there sprang up in him again the will to kill." This time it is a desire to kill himself. Yet, he fears death. He wonders if they are right "when they said his black skin was bad, the covering of an ape-like animal."
He is taken to Cook County Morgue. The room is full of people. He feels that the people in the room had gone beyond hating him. Their voices have a "patient certainty" to them. They want his death to mean more than punishment. "They regard him as a figment of that black world which they feared and were anxious to keep under control."
He comes back to life out of his despair. The Daltons are in the room. Jan is there, also. Bigger feels shame and anger. He feels very tired as he comes to himself. He realizes two of his fingernails have been torn off. His tongue is swollen. He faints. When he comes to, he is on a cot. He is given warm milk. He remembers Bessie had warmed milk for him. When he speaks, it is the first time in three days, and the men guarding him realize he is coming out of his stupor. He wishes he could go back into his trance of despair. He realizes he has come to in order to save his pride. He feels that they had no right to use him for whatever they wanted.
He eats a full meal and reads a newspaper, which describes him as the "Negro rapist." It reports that "a terrified young white girl exclaimed 'He looks exactly like an ape.'" The article describes Bigger's physique as giving the impression of abnormal strength and being exceedingly black. "His lower jaw protrudes obnoxiously, reminding one of a jungle beast." It claims that his arms hang to his knees. It speculates that it is easy to see how this man "in the grip of a brain-numbing sex passion" could overpower "little Mary Dalton." It adds that he is "untouched by the softening influences of modern civilization. In speech and manner he lacks the charm of the average, harmless, genial, grinning Southern darkey so beloved by the American people." The article adds that when the crowd called for Bigger's lynching, he seemed indifferent, acting like "an earlier missing link in the human species."
The report details his background in Mississippi. He is said to come from "a poor darkey family of the shiftless and immoral variety." The report quotes a Southern editor who says the white people must keep the African American people in their place, that an African American man cannot live if he has touched a white woman. The Southern editor urges the people to take the law into their own hands. He urges segregation. The North is mistaken to give African Americans more educated than they are capable of absorbing. He urges an injection of constant fear to handle the problem. Bigger cannot read any further. He knows he has no hope.
Reverend Hammond, the pastor of his mother's church, visits him. He does not want to let Hammond make him feel remorseful. In feelings, he cannot tell the difference between what this man evoked in him and what he had read in the papers. Each made him guilty. The man speaks in the old voice of Bigger's mother. He hates this voice because it makes him feel as guilty as does the voice of those who hate him. The pastor urges him to think only of his soul, to forget he is black.
The images of the preacher are powerful. They arouse dormant impulses in Bigger. The preacher describes the creation. It makes Bigger feel guilt deeper than the murder did. He had killed within himself the picture of life which the preacher was painting for him. "To those who wanted to kill him he was not human, not included in that picture of Creation; and that was why he had killed it. His first murder. The preacher moves to the story of Jesus hanging on the cross to forgive the sin of Eve and Adam. He asks Bigger to stop hating long enough for "Gawd's love t' come inter yo' heart." Bigger covers his eyes. Hammond gives Bigger a cross from his own neck. Bigger feels the words of the preacher, "feeling that life was flesh nailed to the world."
Jan comes in the door and Bigger jumps to his feet in fear. He is surprised to find that Jan is not angry. He tells Bigger he has been struggling all week to understand why Bigger blamed the murder on him. He tells Bigger he had been blind. He asks Bigger to let him help him. He tells him that as a European American it would be asking Bigger too much to asks him not to hate him since "every white man you see hates you." He says he did not know they were so far apart until that night when Bigger pulled the gun on him. He says he understands now why Bigger pulled the gun on him, that his "white face" made Bigger feel guilty. Bigger is speechless. The preacher introduces himself to Jan and commends him for his kind words. Jan tells Bigger that the false accusation had taught him that it is Bigger's right to hate him. It was all Bigger had. Jan tells him he has felt that he is the one who ought to be in jail for murder instead of Bigger. He says he cannot take on himself the blame for what one hundred million people have done. He adds that he loved Mary Dalton and while he was in jail grieving for her, he thought of all the African American men who have been killed.
Bigger has never heard such talk. He cannot react to the words. Jan asks him to let him be by his side. He tells him of his lawyer, Max, who wants to help. Bigger wonders if it is a trap. When he feels Jan's belief in him, he feels guilty again. Jan declares his friendship with him and Bigger knows this action will make other European Americans hate him. "The word had become flesh. For the first time in his life a white man became a human being to him." The preacher insists that there is no use in dragging communism into it, that Bigger needs understanding. Jan says, "But he's got to fight for it." Bigger tells Jan to forget him.
Jan brings Max in the room to see Bigger. He is from the Labor Defenders. He tells Bigger he will be taken back to the inquest that afternoon and that he, Max, will be there for him. Another European American comes in. Bigger recognizes him as Buckley, the man whose picture he had seen pasted on the billboard a few mornings before. Buckley tries to talk Max out of handling Bigger's case. Jan accuses Buckley of doing so in order to insure a short trial, one that will end before the elections in April. Max tells him if the name of the Communist Party had not been dragged into the case, he would not have been there to defend Bigger. He adds that he is convinced that men like Buckley made Bigger what he is.
Bigger had been on the verge of accepting friendship with Jan and Max. The man makes them seem puny. Buckley calls the guard to bring someone in. Bigger feels upset by what is going on. He feels that if anything was to be done on his behalf, he wanted to do it.
The Daltons come in. Mr. Dalton asks if Bigger has said who was involved in the murder with him. Reverend Hammond speaks to Mr. Dalton and offers his condolences and tells him he knows of the Daltons' good works and that this should not have happened to them. Max sympathizes with Mr. Dalton and tells him that killing Bigger will not help anyone. Mr. Dalton says he had tried to help Bigger and Mrs. Dalton says they had wanted to send Bigger to school. Max tells them those things do not touch the fundamental problem. He says Bigger has come from an oppressed people and that even if he has done wrong, that fact should be considered. Mr. Dalton says he wants them to know that what Bigger has done has not made him bitter against African Americans. Just that day, he had sent twelve ping-pong tables to the South Side Boys' Club. Max tries to convince him to learn from his daughter's death and stop going in the same direction. Mr. Dalton asks what he is supposed to do. Is he supposed to die and atone for a suffering he did not cause? Buckley interrupts and tells the men not to be childish. Another knock comes and Buckley is informed that Bigger's family is there.