Literature Study GuidesNative SonFate Book 3 Bigger In Jail And Confession Summary

Native Son | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Native Son | Fate, Book 3 (Bigger in Jail and Confession) | Summary

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Summary

For the first several days in custody, Bigger refuses to speak or eat. He collapses when he is brought to the inquest and sees the Daltons and Jan. When he awakens he takes some milk and asks for a newspaper.

Bigger has a number of visitors in his cell. First is Reverend Hammond, Mrs. Thomas's minister, who urges Bigger to pray. Jan arrives next, telling Bigger he forgives him for what happened to Mary and gets him a lawyer, Boris Max. Max speaks with Bigger briefly and promises to protect his rights when State's Attorney Buckley arrives. The Daltons come in next, urging Bigger to admit who helped him kill Mary. Then Bigger's family, along with Gus, G.H., and Jack, enter the scene.

Everyone is in the room together. Bigger tries to comfort his mother, and Mrs. Thomas begs Mrs. Dalton to let them spare Bigger's life. The minister prays again, then everyone leaves except Buckley. He explains the state is charging him with the rape and murder of Mary and Bessie, and he says other victims have come forward to accuse him of other instances of rape and murder. Bigger doesn't know about these other cases, but he confesses to Mary's and Bessie's deaths, recounting the real events of the night with Mary and Jan, and signs a confession.

Analysis

Bigger's visitors represent both those who support him and those who want to see him pay for his crimes. This scene might seem unrealistic, but it's the first time in the novel when most of the characters find themselves in one room with Bigger at the center. Bigger's family, the minister, and even the guys from the pool hall are on his side, hoping he can either beat the death penalty or save his own soul. The Daltons express feelings of betrayal, and Buckley reprises the "You can't win" stance of his campaign posters. Jan's support for Bigger comes as a surprise. He demonstrates some understanding of the circumstances that have created Bigger; namely, a racist society dominated by white people who seek to shield themselves from black people. Max shows he does not fear Buckley and is committed to serving justice.

The full extent of the prejudice Bigger faces is clear in the hostile newspaper coverage, which compares Bigger to an ape and refers to him only as "the Negro." Journalistic objectivity means little in the face of deep racism. The reporters' emphasis on lurid details make clear that the press is happy to feed the public's bloodlust and prejudice in order to sell papers. The newspaper reports also encourage the mobs around the courthouse and jail, and their fury influences the outcome of the trial.

Buckley brings forth accusations from crime victims Bigger does not know, as if he is using Bigger's arrest to close other open cases. The accusations from other victims and Buckley's willingness to accept them show that all black men are essentially interchangeable to him and the rest of white society. It seems any black man will do as a culprit. When Buckley comments that it was surprisingly easy to get the confession and calls Bigger "just a scared colored boy from Mississippi," he confirms his prejudice.

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