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Free Study Guide: Native Son by Richard Wright - Free BookNotes

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BOOK 2 - "Flight"

Summary (Continued)

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.

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.

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