Explain Bessie's murder and Mary's murder in the following areas: brutality, motive, and consequences.

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MaudlinStreet's profile pic

MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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  • Brutality- Bessie's murder was incredibly violent. Following what appears to be rape (she repeatedly tells Bigger "No"), he beats her skull in with a brick, then throws her body down an airshaft. Compared with this horror, Mary's death is relatively peaceful. It is certainly unintentional-Bigger tries to keep Mary quiet & inadvertently suffocates her.
  • Motive- Again, Bessie's murder was prompted by Bigger's compromised situation. He sees her as a liability, now that the police are chasing him. So her murder is a brutal, premeditated act. Mary's murder really has no motive, because he does not intend to kill her. He is frightened at being discovered in her room, because he will be accused of rape if he is. The irony is that he kills Mary out of this fear, while purposefully killing Bessie after committing that very crime.
  • Consequences- The consequences of Mary's murder are trial, guilty verdict, and eventually execution. It is the final culmination of Bigger's existence within a racist, white-dominated world. The consequences of Bessie's murder are perhaps the saddest, for there are no real consequences. Her body is merely displayed as evidence during the trial for Mary's murder. Bigger is never charged with the crime of killing Bessie, which testifies to the injustice of the society.
teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Bigger is a young man dominated by fear living in a world of limited aspirations, but nevertheless it is a world he cannot fully understand. His murder of the white woman Mary is accidental, and it is born of his terror that she will accuse him of rape. His motive is not to kill her but to keep her quiet: he is not thinking clearly when he suffocates her.

Bigger kills his black, alcoholic girlfriend Bessie in a violent way because he fears she knows too much about his murder of Mary. This crime again reveals Bigger's intense fear of the world and limited understanding of how to best deal with his situation, both of which dehumanize him.

Bigger suffers arrest, trial, conviction, and execution for the accidental killing of Mary, but experiences no consequences for killing Bessie even though that crime was deliberate. Bessie's death does not matter except in the sense that it helps support the case against Bigger for murdering a white woman. 

The novel is a cry for social justice, showing that the severe limitations put on black people and the fear they live with leads to crime, violence, and death.

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