Going to Meet the Man

by James Baldwin

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Student Question

What crime did the lynched Black man commit according to Jesse's father in "Going to Meet the Man"?

Quick answer:

Jesse's father never reveals what crime the Black man who is lynched committed.

Expert Answers

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In James Baldwin's short story "Going to Meet the Man," Jesse's father never tells him what the Black man did to deserve such a horrific punishment. The question occurs to him, though:

What did he do? Jesse wondered. What did the man do? What did he do?—but he could not ask his father.

Earlier in the story, it is implied that the man had knocked down an old woman. During the car ride to the "picnic," his father asks his mother if they would see the man who had done that there. His mother replies,

Well, I reckon ... that we might see him.

It is never made clear, though, this is the man who they actually see.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter what the man had done. What could he possibly have done to warrant such brutal treatment? Without revealing what the man had done and rendering this piece of information unimportant, the focus of the story becomes the White people's perverse enjoyment of the man's torture and murder. Baldwin's gifts for description are on full display here, juxtaposing the torture with the onlookers' pleasure. After the is man lowered into the fire once, Jesse observes his mother:

Her eyes were very bright, her mouth was open: she was more beautiful than he had ever seen her, and more strange.

There is an expression of delight on his mother's face. The rest of the crowd takes just as much enjoyment as she does.

Baldwin does not reveal what the man had done because, ultimately, the characters don't care. This event is an expression of pure, visceral hate; any transgression on the man's part would be a suitable excuse to do this.

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