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Native Son

Richard Wright

Book One (part three)

Book One (part two)

Book One (part three), page 2

page 1 of 2
From Bigger’s arrival at the Daltons’ to meeting Mary with the car

Summary

Bigger watches the sunset from his apartment window as he waits for his appointment with Mr. Dalton. He feels his gun inside his shirt and considers leaving it at the apartment, but ultimately decides to bring it with him. Bigger does not fear the Daltons, but he knows that blacks are often harassed in white neighborhoods and believes the gun will help make him equal to the whites.

Upon arriving at the Daltons’, Bigger is unsure whether he should enter at the front or the back of the house. He stands outside the imposing iron fence of the Daltons’ mansion and is filled with a mixture of fear and hate, feeling foolish for having thought he might like this job. He summons the courage to go to the front door, which the Daltons’ white maid, Peggy, answers. Though Peggy is polite to Bigger, he senses that she is looking down on him even though she, like him, is only hired help. While Bigger waits for Mr. Dalton, he gawks at the splendor of the home, with its elegant furnishings and paintings. He feels intimidated by the vast difference between this world and his own. Assailed by insecurity, tension, and fear, he becomes awkward and clumsy.

Mr. Dalton, a tall, white-haired man, appears and leads Bigger toward his office. Mr. Dalton is the owner of the real estate company that owns the building in which Bigger and his family live. In a hallway, they pass Mrs. Dalton, whose face and hair are so white she seems like a ghost to Bigger. From the way Mrs. Dalton touches the walls as she passes, Bigger can see that she is blind. Once inside the office, Mr. Dalton interviews Bigger. Bigger answers the questions timidly, with few words apart from “yessuh” and “nawsuh.” He hates himself for acting in such a subservient manner, but he cannot control himself and becomes extremely uncomfortable.

As Mr. Dalton continues to question Bigger, Mary Dalton—Mr. Dalton’s daughter and the girl from the newsreel—breezes into the room. The two are introduced, and Mary immediately asks Bigger if he belongs to a union. Bigger knows nothing about unions except that they are supposed to be bad, and he begins to hate Mary for endangering his chance at the job. Mary asks Mr. Dalton if she can be driven to the university for a lecture that evening. She then leaves the room. Despite Bigger’s worries, Mr. Dalton hires him as a chauffeur. Mr. Dalton tells Bigger that he is a great supporter of the NAACP—the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—and that he is hiring Bigger because of this support for blacks. Bigger’s first assignment, Mr. Dalton says, is to drive Mary to the university that evening.

Peggy cooks dinner for Bigger, but he is suspicious of her kindness and thinks she may be trying to pass off some of her work onto him. Peggy tells Bigger how nice the Daltons are and how much they do for “your people,” meaning blacks. Peggy also tells Bigger that the last chauffeur, a black man named Green, was with the Daltons for ten years. Green attended night school at Mrs. Dalton’s urging and went on to a government job. After Bigger finishes dinner, Peggy instructs him in the operation of the furnace, then shows him to his room. Bigger excitedly contemplates the luxuries he will enjoy with the Daltons. Nonetheless, Mary still worries him. Every rich white woman he has met in the past has treated him in a cold and reserved manner, but Mary does not. Bigger therefore does not know what to make of her.

Before driving Mary out to the university, Bigger enters the kitchen and finds Mrs. Dalton sitting there alone. She asks him several questions about his education. Bigger feels that Mrs. Dalton judges him in the same way his mother does. However, Bigger does note a difference between the manners in which the two women treat him: whereas Bigger’s mother tries to impose her own desires on him, Mrs. Dalton wants him to do “the things she felt that he should have wanted to do.” Bigger thinks to himself that he does not want to go to school. He feels he has “other plans,” but he is unable to articulate them, even to himself. He pulls the Daltons’ car out of the garage and picks Mary up at the side door.

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by owobusingye, January 17, 2014

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