Who is the murderer in Blues for Mister Charlie?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

James Baldwin's 1964 play, Blues for Mr. Charlie, found its basis in the 1955 murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi.

In the play's first act, middle-aged store owner Lyle Bittern, not incidentally Caucasian, is indicted for the murder of Richard Henry, a young African American and son of...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

James Baldwin's 1964 play, Blues for Mr. Charlie, found its basis in the 1955 murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi.

In the play's first act, middle-aged store owner Lyle Bittern, not incidentally Caucasian, is indicted for the murder of Richard Henry, a young African American and son of a pastor and civil rights leader. Parnell James, the editor of the local newspaper, assures Bittern that he will never be convicted. Their community is already charged with a racial tension that is only heightened by Bittern's arrest.

Through a series of flashbacks Baldwin sketches in the characters of both men, including Henry's ambivalence about the validity of violent self-defense and the apparent guilt of Bittern over the death of the husband of a woman who had been cheating with him.

The trial turns out to be a farce; witnesses lie without penalty, and there are no African-Americans on the jury, which renders a verdict of 'not guilty.' In a final flashback, Baldwin reveals that Lyle Bittern is, indeed, the murderer of Richard Henry.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team