From the opening of Book Three through Bigger signing his confession


In jail, Bigger lives in a world with no day, no night, and no fear or hatred, as such emotions are useless to him now. He feels gripped by a deep resolution to react to nothing, and he says and eats nothing. He longs for death, but as a black man he does not want to die “unequal, and despised.” Bigger wonders if perhaps the whites are right that being black is the same as being an animal of some sort. Nonetheless, the hope that another way of life exists, one in which he would be able to forget his racial differences, keeps coming back to him.

The authorities drag Bigger to an inquest at the morgue. He senses from the white people around him that they plan not only to put him to death, but also to make him a symbol to terrorize and control the black community. A feeling of rebellion rises in him and he begins to come out of his stupor. In the morgue, Bigger sees Jan and the Daltons. As he gradually begins to snap out of his psychological stupor, he faints, overcome by hunger and exhaustion. When Bigger awakens in his cell, he believes he has “come out into the world again” in order to save his pride and keep the authorities from “making sport of him.”

Bigger asks to see a newspaper. The headline reads, “Negro Rapist Faints at Inquest.” The story compares Bigger to a “jungle beast” who lacks the harmless charm of the “grinning southern darky.” Edward Robertson, editor of the Jackson Daily Star, advises total segregation and a curtailment of the education of the black population, which he claims will prevent men like Bigger from developing. Bigger contemplates returning to his protective stupor, but is not sure if he is still able to do so.

Reverend Hammond, the pastor of Mrs. Thomas’s church, visits Bigger in his cell. The Reverend talks to him about hope and love beyond life. Bigger feels a terrible guilt for having killed within himself the kind of world the preacher describes. He compares the murder of his faith to his murder of Mary. Hammond places a cross around Bigger’s neck just as Jan enters the cell. Jan says that he is not angry and that he wants to help Bigger. Jan says he was foolish to assume that Bigger could have related to him in a different way than he relates to other white men. Jan says that he loved Mary, but he also realizes that black families loved all the black men who have been sold into slavery or lynched by whites. As Jan speaks, Bigger notes that this moment is the first time in his life that he has seen a white person as an individual human being, rather than merely a part of the larger oppressive force of whiteness. This feeling deepens Bigger’s guilt, as he knows he has killed the woman Jan loved. Jan introduces Bigger to Boris A. Max, a lawyer for the Labor Defenders. Max wants to defend Bigger free of charge.

Buckley, the State’s Attorney, suddenly enters Bigger’s cell. Though Max argues that white power is responsible for Bigger’s actions, Bigger feels his burgeoning friendship with Max and Jan quickly evaporate when he sees the self-assured Buckley. Mr. and Mrs. Dalton enter the cell and ask that Bigger cooperate with Buckley and reveal the name of his accomplice. In response, Max asks that they not sentence Bigger to death. Dalton says that despite the crime he is not angry with all black Americans. He announces that he has even sent some Ping-Pong tables to the South Side Boys’ Club earlier in the day. Doubtful, Max questions whether Ping-Pong will prevent murder.

Bigger’s family and his friends Jack, G. H., and Gus enter the now crowded cell. Bigger looks at them and thinks they should be glad that he has “taken fully upon himself the crime of being black,” and thus washed away their shame. He knows, however, that they still feel shame, and he asks his mother to forget him. Mrs. Thomas tearfully begs the Daltons to have mercy, but they only reply that they have no control over the matter. Mrs. Thomas also tells Mr. Dalton that his real estate company has been trying to evict her family, and he promises they will not be evicted.