Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494

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In the first of the story’s six sections, Sue, an elderly and dignified black woman, recalls her burdensome life and efforts to survive the death of her husband and the births of her sons, Sug and Johnny-Boy. Both sons believe in the promise of the Communist Party to end strife between the races and economic classes. Sug, however, is imprisoned for his party activities, and Johnny-Boy, like many Richard Wright characters, is fleeing from white people who seek to identify Communist Party members in order to destroy both them and the party. Sue and Reva, a white woman in love with Johnny-Boy, share a well-founded concern for Johnny-Boy’s safety.

In the next section, Johnny-Boy explains to his mother that he is committed to communism for economic, not racial reasons, noting that black people cannot fight rich bosses alone and that only by working with white party members can they attain economic equality. Sue believes that Johnny-Boy is blinded by his idealism, but her maternal love does not allow her to prevent his attending a party meeting, even though Reva has warned her that the sheriff and other white men plan to raid the meeting.

In the third section the sheriff arrives to determine the whereabouts of Johnny-Boy and the meeting. He brutally beats Sue, but she will not tell him anything. Angered by her defiance, the sheriff knocks her unconscious. Sue’s pride, her ability to maintain her secret, and her pronouncement that she has the strength to remain silent are her nearly fatal undoing.

In the fourth section, Sue, her son, and the black race are betrayed when a white man named Booker arrives, ostensibly to warn those planning to attend the Communist Party meeting of the sheriff’s intention. In his manipulation of Sue in her weakened state, Richard Wright’s Booker does indeed reveal his Judas-like qualities. When he leaves, Sue fears she has revealed her secret to the wrong person.

Sue’s fears are confirmed in the next section, in which Reva reappears and warns Sue not to trust Booker. The warning comes too late, so Sue decides to take action. She arms herself with a gun and her conviction that she will go to the spot where she believes the sheriff is waiting for her son and the other Communist Party members.

In the final section of the story, the battle lines are drawn clearly: black versus white, the powerless versus the powerful, and Sue and her son versus the sheriff and his conspirators. After Sue sees the sheriff break her son’s kneecaps and his ear drums because he will not reveal the names of his comrades, she sees Booker, the man for whom she is really waiting. She shoots Booker, thereby killing the man whose betrayal has destroyed her son, his dreams, and her own. Sue, in turn, is killed by the white posse, her blood adding to the drama of the final battlefield scene.

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