Big Black Good Man Summary

Introduction

“Big Black Good Man” was published in French in 1958, three years before Richard Wright’s death. It appears in the story collection Eight Men, one of the author’s last works. Its themes of suspense, fear, and alienation mark it as typical of Wright’s fiction. The story, although not one of the author’s betterknown works, is included in The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories, edited by Daniel Halpern and published in 1987.

Big Black Good Man Summary

“Big Black Good Man” opens on an August night in Copenhagen, Denmark. The year is not specified, but the setting seems to be contemporary with the time of the story’s writing, the late 1950s. Olaf Jenson sits in the office in a cheap hotel that caters to sailors and students. Jenson, the night porter, will be sixty years old the next day. He finishes a beer, smokes a cigar, and reflects on his comfortable, unremarkable life.

It is late, and Jenson is about to take a nap when a very large black man opens the office door and asks for a room. Jenson is so taken aback by the man’s size that he does not answer until the man repeats his request. Jenson asks if the man is an American (yes) and a sailor (yes). The porter thinks that, although he is not a bigot, “this particular black man . . . Well, he didn’t seem human. [. . .] There was something about the man’s intense blackness and ungamely bigness that frightened and insulted Olaf.”

Jenson wants to refuse the man lodging but is afraid to do so. As soon as he agrees to give the man a room, the sailor hands Jenson a roll of fifty- and one-hundred-dollar bills to keep in the safe. Wracking his brain for a way to get the man out of the hotel, Jenson plans to tell him that the hotel does not let rooms for one night only. The man, however, says that he is staying five or six nights.

The man refuses to let the elderly porter carry his suitcase, but Jenson shows him to his room. The man asks Jenson to get him whiskey and a woman, which are common requests in this hotel. Still revolted by the man, Jenson returns to the office and reluctantly calls Lena, a prostitute who regularly visits men at the hotel. He warns Lena about the man’s size, but she is unconcerned and soon arrives. Jenson worries about her while she is with the man, but she later leaves, first giving Jenson his percentage of her fee.

The next night, the man comes in late and asks for Lena by name. This pattern continues for six nights. Then the man comes to the office to pay his bill and get his money from the...

(The entire section is 850 words.)