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Free Study Guide-Native Son by Richard Wright-Free Online Book Notes
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BOOK 3 -"Fate"

Summary (continued)

The preacher comes and Bigger pushes him out. The guard points out his cross on the floor and says the "Reds" have been talking to him. The guard opens the door of his cell anyway and the preacher tries to enter. Bigger swings the door shut and it knocks the preacher backwards onto the floor.

Bigger decides he does not want to feel any more hope. He notices that even in jail, African Americans are segregated from European Americans. He decides never to trust anyone again, not even Jan or Max. He hears a whisper of another inmate asking him if he is the one who did the Dalton job. He refuses to speak, feeling they are not his kind, not having done crimes such as his. Food is brought in. The guard tells him his lawyer sent it and that he has a good lawyer.

The guard gives him his newspaper, which Bigger reads eagerly. It quotes David A. Buckley as saying that he thinks the Communists are behind many unsolved crimes in the country. He hears a scream and runs to see an African American man being dragged by his feet by six guards. The man is placed into Bigger's cell. He calls out for his papers. A white man tells Bigger the man is insane and that he went insane from studying too much at the university. He was writing a book about the lives of African Americans. He claims someone has stolen all the facts he has gathered. He claims to have found the cause of African American oppression. The man had been picked up at the Post Office building demanding to speak to the U.S. president. Bigger feels great dread in the presence of this insane man. The man screams that he plans to tell the president about how they make African Americans live in crowded conditions in the South Side, that one in ten are insane, that all the stale foods are dumped into the Black Belt and sold for a higher price than anywhere else. He adds that African Americans are taxed but given no hospitals, their schools are overcrowded, and they are hired last and fired first from jobs. Soon a group of men dressed in white come to get him. They put him in a straight-jacket and take him away.

Max arrives. Bigger feels helpless to deal with his situation. Max has brought him some clothes. He asks Bigger to tell him all about himself. Max tells him he is facing "a sea of hate" no different from what he has faced all his life and that the only thing to do is fight. Max asks Bigger if he trusts him. He assures him that he can. Bigger realizes he does trust Max, but he doubts if Max can help him see things in a way that would help him go to his death.

Max asks him if he does not care, why did he refuse to re-enact the crime at the Daltons. Bigger says he knows they hate African Americans. Max tells him they hate others, too, such as those who belong to trade unions. Max tells him he is hated for defending Bigger, that he receives letters calling him a "dirty Jew."

Bigger realizes that Max had evoked in him again the urge to talk. He feels excited. He wants to give solid reasons why he had murdered. He tells Max he was all mixed up and feeling many things at once.

Max asks if he was wanting to rape Mary before Mrs. Dalton came into the room. He admits that he was feeling "a little that way." He says he did not rape her but it does not matter because people say he did. Max asks Bigger if he had liked Mary. He yells out that he hated her and he is not sorry she is dead. He tells Max she asked him a lot of questions and acted and talked in a way that made him hate her. He says Mary made him feel like a dog. As he talks, he catches an image of Vera crying because he had shamed her by looking at her.

Max says people do not hate other people for getting in the front seat with them. Bigger says Mary was not kind to him. Max says Mary had accepted Bigger as another human being. Bigger replies, "what you say is kind ain't kind at all. I didn't know nothing about that woman. All I knew was that they kill us for women like her. We live apart. And then she comes and acts like that to me." Max tries to convince him that even though Mary was rich and European American, she was not acting as his enemy, but as his friend. He tries to get Bigger to see her as an individual. Bigger says that since African-and whites are strangers, she might have been trying to act kindly toward him, but he did not feel that she was being kind.

Max asks him how it is that he hated her but still felt like raping with her when he was in her room. Bigger says he guesses it is because it was what he ought not to have wanted. He says it was probably because that is what people say African American men do. Bigger says the European Americans draw a line and make African Americans stay on their side of it. When they try to cross the line, they are killed. Max asks if he wanted to defy the color line.

Max asks him why he did not stop and tell Mrs. Dalton he was in the room when she came in on him. Bigger says he could not possibly have spoken to her, that he felt like someone else stepped into his skin in that room.

Max asks him why he killed Bessie. He responds that he only killed her to keep her from talking, that it was easy to kill her after killing Mary. To Max's question of when he started hating Mary, Bigger responds that he hated her before he even saw her. He feels that his words are not logical, so he falls back on his feelings to explain. He says he got tired of people telling him what he could and could not do, that living a life of contingency from one petty job to the next makes a person lose hope. When that happens "you ain't a man no more." He tells Max that he always thinks of European Americans. They own everything and choke African Americans off the earth. He sees them like God. "They kill you before you die." Max asks him what he wanted to have been. Bigger laughs silently and tells him had once wanted to be an aviator, then to join the army or the navy.

Max asks him what he thought he would get out of murdering the two women. Bigger says he is not worried about having killed the women. He says that for a "little while I was free. I was doing something." He says he knows it was wrong, but that it felt right. He says he killed them because he was scared and mad and that after he killed Mary, he was not scared for a little while. When Max asks him what he was afraid of, he says he was afraid of everything. Max asks him if he ever wanted to be happy and what Bigger imagines happiness would be like. Bigger says he imagines if he were happy he would not always be hating people, and he would feel at home.

He tells Max the South Side Boys' Club, sponsored by Mr. Dalton's charity, was where he and his friends planned most of their jobs. Max asks about religion. Bigger says his family is religious but he does not see that it gets them anything. He says, "Nobody but poor folks get happy in church." He says he wanted to be happy in this world not out of it. He adds that European Americans like African Americans to be religious.

Max asks Bigger if he loves African Americans. Bigger says he does not know; he only knows that European Americans hate them. Max asks Bigger what he thinks of the African American leaders. Bigger says they would not listen to him. They are rich and almost like white people. They say guys like Bigger "make it hard for them to get along with white folks." In Bigger's opinion, they only want money and fame. Bigger tells Max he voted twice in order to get the five dollar bribe.

He tells Max it seems natural to be facing the death chair. Max stands up to leave. He tells Bigger of the procedure of the trial and that he will try to tell the judge of Bigger's feelings. Max tells him the European Americans are very angry because they believe deep down that they made Bigger do it. Bigger tells Max to expect to be hated. Max tells Bigger he can take it because he knows why and he can fight. He says the fear of hate keeps many European Americans from standing with African --Americans for justice.

Back in his cell, Bigger feels peace as if a burden has lifted. He feels more relaxed than he ever has before. He realizes that he had never spoken to anyone like he had spoken to Max. Then he gets suddenly angry. He thinks Max had tricked him. Then he realizes Max had not made him talk. He had wanted to talk. He has to make a decision which way to go hope or hate. With Max's questions, he felt a recognition of his life, his feelings, and his person. He wonders if those who hate him have the same thing in them Max had seen in him. He wonders if the "mountain of hate" were not a mountain of people like himself. He feels high hope and deep despair. He has a new sense of value in himself. He wonders if he reaches out his hand for some recognition if anyone would respond. He feels that in that response, there would be a "oneness, a wholeness which had been denied him all his life." He is not interested in hating now. He does not want to die.

On the first day of his trial, Bigger still feels motivated by the desire to possess the thing which Max had dimly evoked in him. He feels more naked than ever to the hatred he feels directed at him. His family had come to visit him many times. He lied to them saying that he had been praying. Finally, he had told Max not to let them come again. A guard leaves Bigger a newspaper. The headline proclaims that troops have to guard his trial. He reads the phrases that characterize him as a brute. He reads a psychological account given of him by a psychiatric attache to the police department, who describes him as cagey and thinks that Bigger is probably hiding many other crimes. The article adds that psychologists at the University of Chicago point out that "white women have an unusual fascination for Negro men. One psychologist is quoted as saying that African American men find white women more attractive than women of their own ethnicity. "They just can't help themselves."

Max visits him in his cell and accompanies him to a room outside the courtroom. Outside the building, on his way to court, he sees the mob held back by military personnel. Max tells Bigger he will have to speak in court. Bigger is very upset by this news. Max tells Bigger to let the judge see him as alert to what is going on. He adds that he has insisted on Mrs. Thomas being there. They walk to the courtroom and Bigger's picture is taken by many cameras. He sees his family and many of his old school mates and friends. The judge is introduced, Chief Justice Alvin C. Hanley. He hears the charges. Max pleads guilty and asks to offer evidence of Bigger's mental and emotional attitude and to show the degree of his responsibility in the crimes in order to mitigate his punishment. Buckley insists that Max is pleading insanity and Max negates this charge. The lawyers and judge argue for over an hour. Bigger does not understand what they are saying. He is asked to rise. The judge asks him how far he went in school. The judge tells him he might receive the death penalty or life in prison. He agrees that he understands the consequences of pleading guilty.

Buckley gives his opening argument. He says the crime is utterly beast-like. He opens the window to the sounds of the mob screaming "Kill 'im now!" and "Lynch 'im!" Max charges that it is an attempt to intimidate the court. Buckley calls it a fight for civilization. He demands the death penalty for these "black crimes." He has sixty witnesses to say that Bigger was sane when he committed the murders. Max points out the fact that the trial was rushed and was not given a change of venue despite the mob. He adds that he will witness for Bigger. He asks why Bigger killed. He adds that there was no motive because it was almost instinctual. He describes Bigger as younger than his years. He tells the court that Bigger has "only two outlets for his emotions, work and sex." The court adjourns for an hour. Bigger is taken to another room. He feels fear and dread.

Back in the courtroom, Buckley calls his witnesses to the stand, doctors, police, newspaper reporters, Jan, the members of Bigger's gang, Doc, and others. He has a white woman crawl into a furnace He calls Bigger a despoiler of women. He rests his case. Max is ordered to begin his plea tomorrow. Bigger realizes how important Max's words will be to him.

The next day, Max says "the key to our future" is to understand. He adds that the death penalty would not end this crime. He points out that the idea that "all are equal before the law" is untrue in regards to his client. He says that Bigger is a "social symbol in relation to our whole sick social organism." He points out the jury is not made up of Bigger's peers, but of "an alien and hostile race." He adds that the hunt for Bigger Thomas served the police and white citizenry and an excuse for terrorizing the entire African American population of Chicago, for raiding and arresting hundreds of Communists and labor union headquarters. He points out that the mob standing outside was incited to come. He points out that the State's Attorney, the Governor of the state, and the Mayor have conspired to shut down all labor organizing.

He says he wishes Bigger had killed these women for romantic or noble purposes. He says the court must deal with "a dislocation of life involving millions of people." He notes that he does not claim that Bigger is a victim of injustice. He notes that the concept of injustice rests upon an assumption of equal claims. He says Bigger represents a mode of life that has been stunted and distorted, but that has grown from the soil that was sown by white hands.

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