Book 1 of Native Son is entitled "Fear". The main character of the story told here is Bigger Thomas, who is twenty years old and lives in a tenement in the South Side of Chicago. Bigger's mother wants him to accept a job being offered by Henry Dalton, "a wealthy white man who owns much of the property in the ghetto". Bigger really has no choice in the matter, because if he does not take the job, his family will be denied welfare, on which they depend for their survival.
On his way to see Mr. Dalton, Bigger stops by a poolroom to visit with his friends. Bigger comes up with a plan to rob a white-owned deli with them, but when the time comes to execute the plan he ruins things because he is afraid. Bigger goes to see Mr. Dalton, and accepts the job being offered. He will receive $25 a week to be a chauffeur, and is also given a room in which to live. Bigger is extremely nervous, because he will now have to live among white people, whom he believes are all racist.
Bigger's first job as chauffeur is to take Mr. Dalton's beautiful daughter Mary to see Jan, her boyfriend. Mary is a communist and tries to treat Bigger as an equal, but Bigger, having never had the experience before, does not know how to react, and fears that such familiarity will lead to trouble for him. At Mary's direction, Bigger drives her and Jan to a restaurant on the South Side. Jan buys some rum, and by the time Bigger drops Jan off and brings Mary home, she is quite drunk. Bigger must help Mary to her room, carrying her in his arms because she is so intoxicated. As he is getting her into bed, Mary's blind mother appears at the door. Bigger covers Mary's head with a pillow so that her mother will not hear her incoherent moans. He is terrified of the consequences if he should be caught as a black man with a white girl in her room, even though the situation is entirely innocent on his part.
When Bigger removes the pillow, he discovers to his horror that Mary is dead. In a state of panic, he takes her body to the basement and stuffs it in the furnace (Book 1).