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

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BOOK 2 - "Flight"

Summary (Continued)

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.

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