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

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BOOK 2 - "Flight"

Summary (Continued)

He waits until she falls asleep and bashes her head with a brick. He cannot tell how many times he brought the brick down on her head. He only knows the "job was done." He forces himself to turn the flashlight on her face to see if she is dead. He is afraid he will turn the light on her and see her looking at him with accusation. He turns the light on her and sees her bloody head. He throws the body down a narrow air-shaft, and hears it "hit and bump against the narrow sides" on its way down. He moves the pallet into another room. He realizes suddenly that he has thrown Bessie's body out the window and she had the money in her dress pocket. He knows he cannot go and retrieve the money because if he sees her again he will be overcome with guilt. He only has seven cents.

He has a queer sense of power. "He had brought all this about." He thinks these two murders are the most meaningful things that had ever happened to him. He is living truly and deeply. He had "never had the chance to live out the consequences of his actions; never had his will been so free as in this night and day of fear and murder and flight." He realizes that these murders were not his first. He feels that he has been wanting to face the people who hate his kind so much that they force them to live in a rotten corner of the city and then turn around and ask as Mary had, "I'd like to know how your people live."

He is not clear about what he wants, what he loves, and what he hates. He feels that it was only with the stress of hatred that the conflict within him was resolved. "He had been so conditioned in a cramped environment that hard words or kicks alone knocked him upright and made him capable of action." He hates his mother for her escape into religion, which he sees in direct parallel to Bessie's whisky. When he had read the newspapers and magazines, gone to the movies, or walked in crowds, he had felt he had found himself. He wanted to "Lose himself in it so he could find himself, to be allowed a chance to live like others, even though he was black." He feels as though when he committed murder twice, he had created a new world for himself.

The next morning he steals a newspaper. Its headlines announce that a hunt is on for him. It goes on to say that five thousand police surround the Black Belt. It is hinted to be a sex crime. He knows that these words mean he has already been condemned to death. He holds his gun while reading the paper.

The report adds that many windows in the African-American section of town were smashed over night. Every "Negro home" is being searched under a blanket search warrant by the mayor. All schools are closed because the white citizens have petitioned the mayor in their fear of the "Negro rapist and murderer." Reports tell of African-American men being beaten in several North and West Side neighborhoods. Many vigilantes have volunteered to help in the search and the police chief has accepted their help in light of the "recurring waves of Negro crime." Several hundred African-American men were rounded up by the police, several hundred African-American employees throughout the city have been dismissed from their jobs.

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.

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