Rufus Scott, an African American musician, is in a desperate condition. He not only has no money but also he has fallen out of contact with his friends and his family. He was out of touch for about a month and a half. Moreover, the most foreboding aspect of Rufus’s condition is his total despair. This despair results primarily from his complete alienation from those who were formerly close to him. As Rufus wanders the streets of New York, he remembers his relationships with people he loves. He realizes that his love is often mixed with hostility. For example, months earlier, he met a white southern woman named Leona at a party. During the party, their affair began. Rufus realizes that part of what he wanted from his relationship with Leona was to take out on her his rage against white people. This relationship is somewhat of a pattern with Rufus. He also had an affair with a white southern actor named Eric Jones. In his present desperate state, Rufus realizes how he abused both Eric and Leona, ultimately driving them away with his racist taunts and physical and psychological humiliation. Consequently, Rufus realizes that he used Eric’s and Leona’s love for him to abuse them and thereby vent his anger and frustrations. He alienates himself from everyone to whom he was once close. His once-close friend, aspiring writer Vivaldo Moore, who became fed up with Rufus’s inflicting his problems on him and others, Rufus also drives away. After reflecting on his relationships and realizing how isolated he is, Rufus kills himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.
Meanwhile, Ida, Rufus’s sister, is trying to find him. She goes to the home of Richard Silenski, a newly successful novelist, and his wife, Cass. Vivaldo is also present. One of Ida’s chief characteristics—her anger against whites—becomes clear. She accuses Rufus’s friends of not caring about what happened to him, as all of them are white. Vivaldo feels especially guilty, recalling how he failed to show up for his last scheduled meeting with Rufus. After Richard suggests checking with hospitals and the morgue, Rufus’s friends learn the truth: Rufus is dead.
Ida’s relationship with Rufus’s circle of friends—Vivaldo, Richard, and Cass—continues. Vivaldo becomes attracted to Ida and the two become lovers, even though Ida, like Rufus, feels a simultaneous attraction to and repulsion from whites. Further complicating things is that Ida, an aspiring singer, decides to have an affair with white television producer Steve...
(The entire section is 1031 words.)