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

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NATIVE SON: FREE SYNOPSIS / CHAPTER SUMMARIES

BOOK 3 -"Fate"

Summary (Continued)

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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