(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Going to Meet the Man” divides clearly and purposefully into two parts. In the first half, the main character, Jesse, a white deputy sheriff in a southern town, lies in bed with his wife, Grace, for the first time in memory suffering from insomnia and impotence. James Baldwin catches Jesse on this night at a moment of crisis, which he shares with other white males: The Old South is now history, the blacks are protesting en masse by registering to vote, and a new South that Jesse cannot conceive is about to be born. That he cannot accept what is happening is clear from hints about what he, as deputy sheriff, will be doing the next day to break up the registration. However, his resistance is much more evident in his paranoid reflections about African Americans; what he would like to do is escape from the black world altogether.

Jesse describes to Grace (who is, however, probably sleeping) an incident that took place earlier in the day at the courthouse. To stop the blacks from singing, the sheriff arrested “the ring-leader” and began to beat him senseless. Jesse continued the brutality at the jail, but before falling unconscious, the young black leader reminded him of an incident in their past when he, as a little boy, had defied this white man for showing disrespect toward his grandmother. The memory raises Jesse’s antagonism to an even higher pitch; he wishes to exterminate the black race. He and his fellow whites in the South are...

(The entire section is 593 words.)