Bigger has grown up with the opinion that he simply has nocontrol over his life. In his mind, he cant ever beanything more than an unskilled, low-wage laborer. He isforced to take a job as a chauffeur for the Daltons to avoidhaving to watch his own family starve. Strangely, Mr. Dalton is Bigger’s landlord; he ownsmost of the company that manages the apartment buildingwhere Bigger’s family lives.
Mr. Dalton and other wealthyreal estate men are robbing the poor, black tenants on theSouth Side. What they do is refuse to rent apartments inother neighborhoods to black tenants. By doing this, theycreate an fake housing shortage on the South Side, and thatcauses high rents. Mr. Dalton likes to think of himself as agenerous man just because he gives money to black schoolsand offers jobs to poor, timid black boys like Bigger.
However, his generosity is only a way for him to get rid ofthe guilty conscience he has for cheating the poor blackresidents of Chicago. Mary Dalton, the daughter of Bigger’s Mr. Dalton,angers Bigger when she ignores the rules of society whenit comes to relationships between white women and black men. On his first day on the job, Bigger drives Mary out to meether boyfriend, Jan. One thing leads to another, and allthree of them get drunk.
Mary is too drunk to make it to herbedroom on her own, so Bigger helps her up the stairs. Justas he places Mary on her bed, Mary’s blind mother, Mrs. Dalton, enters the bedroom. Bigger is scared that Mary willgive away that he is in the room, so he covers her face witha pillow and accidentally smothers her to death.
Unawarethat Mary is dead, Mrs. Dalton prays and then leaves theroom. Bigger tries to cover his crime by burning Mary’s bodyin the Daltons’ furnace. Then attempts to frame Jan forMary’s disappearance. A comment by Bigger’s girlfriend, Bessie, gives him theidea to try to collect ransom money from the Daltons. Hewrites a ransom letter and signs it Red, then talks Bessieinto taking part in the whole plan.
But, when Mary’s bonesare found in the furnace, Bigger and Bessie run away to anempty building. Bigger is scared that he is going to getcaught because of Bessie, so he rapes her and then he beatsher to death with a brick. Everyone is after Bigger to tryto catch him and bring him to jail. He escapes the hugemanhunt as long as he can, but he is eventually capturedafter a huge shoot-out. The press and the public decide hisguilt and his punishment before his trial even begins.
Allthe people just assume that Bigger raped Mary before killingher and burned her body to hide the evidence. The whiteauthorities and mob use Bigger as an excuse to terrorize theentire South Side neighborhood. Jan is heartbroken over Mary’s death, but he finallyunderstands that he is partly guilty too. He realizes thathe was wrong to expect Bigger to act differently to him thanto any other white man. Jan also realizes that he violatedall of the rules that apply to race relations.
And thefact that he did that, angered and shamed Bigger. Jan getshis friend, Boris A. Max, to defend Bigger for free. Hetries to save Bigger from the death penalty by arguing thatwhat Bigger did was an affect of the environment he was in. Max warns the public that there will be more men like Biggerif America does not put an end to the huge cycle of hate andpunishment.
But, even after the trial, Bigger is sentencedto death.Book Reports