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Literature Study GuidesNative SonFate Book 3 Inquest And After Summary

Native Son | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Native Son | Fate, Book 3 (Inquest and After) | Summary



Bigger returns to the inquest, navigating through a mob hurling insults at him. One of the mob's participants hits him on the head, but Bigger is led to a chair as the evidence is presented to the grand jury. Mrs. Dalton testifies first, describing hearing Mary in her room on the night she died, identifying the earring, and revealing her family's contributions to black causes. Mary's remains are shown next. When Jan testifies, Buckley implies that Jan was involved in murder, suggesting that he used Mary as "bait" to bring Bigger into the Communist Party and that Jan failed to protect Mary by leaving her alone with a black man.

Mr. Dalton explains his practice of hiring black drivers with questionable pasts in an effort to give them a "second chance." After Buckley finishes Max questions Mr. Dalton and reveals that Mr. Dalton owns the building where the Thomas family lives. Max questions Mr. Dalton's rental practices, charging black tenants more than white tenants for slumlike conditions and segregating housing by race. Mr. Dalton argues that these practices are the result of market forces and tradition. Buckley presents other evidence, including Mary's purse, the rum bottle, the knife, and the pamphlets. When Bessie's body is displayed, police reveal she did not die from her head injuries but froze to death trying to escape the air shaft.

The grand jury charges Bigger with rape and murder, and he is taken back to jail through the angry mob.


The inquest highlights society's prejudice against both black people and communists, with the assumption that black men are natural rapists emerging again, this time with encouragement from the communists.

Max's cross-examination reveals Mr. Dalton's hypocrisy. Whether he realizes it or not, Mr. Dalton's business practices and his charitable contributions echo Bigger's earlier idea about doing what you want while acting the way people expect you to. Mr. Dalton's wealth and skin color give him the freedom to realize this idea in a way that Bigger never could. He has made his fortune by renting slumlike apartments to black families, charging them higher rents, and preying on their desperation. Because the suffering of his tenants is the source of his profits, he has no motivation to effect real change in the community, but he and his wife make contributions that look like they're trying to help.

Bessie suffers one last indignity, her body displayed in front of strangers as evidence of Bigger's crime against a white woman. It is possible the police have exaggerated the details of Bessie surviving the beating to make Bigger appear more monstrous, but society's general disinterest in Bessie makes exaggeration unlikely. Even Bigger realizes nobody really cares about Bessie. She is not a dead human but a piece of evidence for Mary's case, and for the first time Bigger feels sympathy for Bessie. Even in death Bessie's race makes her a secondary figure, yet her end was far more brutal than Mary's. Mary did not endure rape, and her suffocation while under the influence of alcohol was peaceful compared to being bashed in the head with a brick and dropped four stories down an air shaft to freeze and bleed to death.

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