If Beale Street Could Talk

by James Baldwin
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Last Updated on January 14, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 828

As the second section of the novel opens, Tish describes a dream that Fonny has about wood. In this dream, Fonny is desperately trying to approach the wood and carve it into the vision he has for a sculpture. He is unable to even touch the wood, and he realizes that the vision represents his powerlessness.

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Fonny wakes up in his solitary cell, which is located in a temporary holding area of the jail. The toilet in Fonny’s cell is always clogged, rendering it useless. Fonny notices that he smells bad, as he cannot remember the last time he was allowed to take a shower. Soon, he will be transferred into the general population, about which he harbors mixed feelings. While he is eager for company, he is also fearful of the other inmates. Out of frustration, Fonny masturbates but deliberately does not think of Tish as he does so. He is both disgusted with himself and grateful for any feeling of pleasure.

Later, Tish visits Fonny, and she tells him that the District Attorney’s office has postponed his court date. She says that Hayward is going to request that Fonny be released on bail until the trial; everyone is working desperately to gather the money necessary to post bail. She steers the conversation to the baby, who is more active than ever. Fonny jokes that Tish is pregnant with triplets.

Sharon returns home from Puerto Rico feeling as though little has been accomplished. Word has spread around the island about Sharon’s altercation with Mrs. Rogers, making it impossible for her to move freely there and achieve her goal. Jaime then acts as Sharon’s spy, since he is able to move about the island without rousing any suspicion from the locals. Jaime discovers after some time that Mrs. Rogers has had a miscarriage; her relatives have carried her off to the mountains, where she is likely never to be seen again. As a result, Sharon thinks the District Attorney will argue for even more time before beginning the trial, keeping Fonny incarcerated far longer than any of them ever anticipated.

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Later, Joe visits the Hunt house and tells Frank that the trial is being postponed indefinitely because of what happened to Mrs. Rogers, who is one of the state’s key witnesses. Adrienne and Sheila are giggling in the kitchen, which irritates both men, given the gravity of their conversation. Hearing her father’s expressions of frustration from the other room, Adrienne appears and asks her father what is wrong. Frank throws a glass across the room, rebuking Adrienne for not doing more to help her brother.

When Tish visits Fonny, she expects him to react with disappointment to the news of what has happened with Mrs. Rogers and the trial. To the contrary, Fonny treats the news as neither good nor bad. He seems ambivalent as to whether he gets out or not. Now that so much time has passed, Fonny has become hardened and resigned, to the point of accepting life in jail. Tish and Fonny each kiss the glass that separates them, which has become their parting ritual.

The season changes to summer. Fonny is still in jail, and Tish’s pregnancy is approaching its end. On one particular visit, Tish notices that Fonny is actually at peace, even happy. He tells her that he is an artisan, and he is building a table at which she and their child will gather for many years to come. He asserts that he will eventually be freed from jail. His attitude reflects a change that makes Tish feel better about what she perceives as her failure to free him.

Tish notices the signs that she will soon go into labor, commenting that her “time” is coming. One afternoon at home, Tish answers a phone call from a frantic Adrienne. Adrienne keeps asking if Tish or anyone in her family have seen or heard from Frank, who has been missing for several hours. Tish tells Adrienne she does not know. Just as the call ends, Joe arrives at the door. Sharon goes to answer the door. Although Tish cannot see her parents, she knows from Sharon’s voice that something terrible has happened.

Joe explains that Frank was just fired from his job; his boss had caught him stealing from the business. In his despair, Frank drove his vehicle “way, way, way up the river” and committed suicide. Paralyzed with shock, Tish asks if Fonny knows what has happened. Joe replies that they will have to wait until the morning to tell Fonny.

When Sharon asks Tish if she is feeling all right, Tish realizes that she is going into labor. The novel ends with an abstract passage that describes Tish’s experience of childbirth. Tish envisions Fonny carving wood and stone—smiling as he works—and the baby approaching from far away, crying as though he or she wants to “wake the dead.”

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Troubled About My Soul: Section 3 Summary