From the inquest through Bigger’s meeting with Max


The authorities lead Bigger to the courtroom for the inquest. Mrs. Dalton testifies that the earring found in her furnace is a family heirloom that she had given to Mary. She states that she and her husband have donated millions of dollars to black schools. Jan follows Mrs. Dalton to the stand. During questioning, the coroner insinuates that Jan promised Bigger sex with white women if Bigger joined the Communist Party. Max argues that these kinds of questions are sensational and designed only to inflame public opinion, but his objections are overruled.

Mr. Dalton takes the stand and Max is permitted to question him. As Max knows that Mr. Dalton owns a controlling share in the company that manages the building where Bigger’s family lives, he asks Dalton why black tenants pay higher rents than whites for the same kinds of apartments. Dalton replies that there is a housing shortage on the South Side. Max retorts that there are areas of the city without housing shortages, and Dalton replies that he thought black tenants preferred living together on the South Side. Max then succeeds in making Dalton admit that he refuses to rent to black tenants in other neighborhoods. He accuses Dalton of giving some of the real estate profits to black schools merely to alleviate his guilty conscience. Before dismissing Mr. Dalton, Max asks him if the living conditions of Bigger’s family might have contributed to the death of his daughter. Dalton cannot comprehend the question.

The coroner exhibits Bessie’s body to the jurors. Bigger knows that the authorities are using Bessie only to ensure that he will get the death penalty for killing Mary. Bigger becomes angry that they are using Bessie in death just as Bessie’s white employer used her while she was alive. He feels that the whites are using both him and Bessie as if they were mere property.

Bigger is indicted for rape and murder. When the police take him to the Dalton home and ask him to reenact the crime, he backs himself against the wall and refuses. Outside, a mob screams for his death. Bigger sees a burning cross across the street. He feels that Hammond, in giving him the cross to wear, has betrayed him: the preacher has made him feel a kind of hope, but the burning cross leaves him hopeless once again. Back in his jail cell, Bigger rips off the cross and flings it away. When Hammond tries to visit him again, Bigger furiously refuses him. He vows never to trust anyone again.

Bigger asks to see a newspaper, which reports that he is certain to receive the death penalty. A hysterical black prisoner is brought to Bigger’s cell, demanding the return of his papers. Another prisoner tells Bigger that this hysterical prisoner went crazy from studying too much at a university. The man had been trying to understand why blacks were treated so badly and had been picked up at the post office, where he was waiting to speak to the president. His screaming disturbs other prisoners, and he is taken away on a stretcher.

Max visits Bigger in his cell. Hopeless, Bigger tells Max that none of his efforts will be of use. Bigger feels destined to die to appease the public, and, therefore, has no possibly of winning the trial. Max tries to get Bigger to trust him. Despite his best efforts to avoid opening up and trusting anyone, Bigger does end up trusting Max, but still believes Max’s efforts will prove futile. Max then asks Bigger why he killed Mary. Excited at the prospect of finally feeling understood, Bigger tells Max that he did not rape Mary and hints that he killed her by accident. When Max presses him further about his feelings, Bigger states that Mary’s unorthodox behavior frightened and shamed him. When Max points out that Bigger could have avoided the murder by trying to explain himself to Mrs. Dalton, Bigger explains that he could not help himself and that it was as if someone else had stepped inside him and acted for him.