Going to Meet the Man

by James Baldwin

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Student Question

What is the crime depicted in "Going to Meet the Man"?

Expert Answers

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Guilt and crime operate at different levels in the short-story and acquire different meanings according to the different racial points of view.

As deputy sheriff Jesse thinks about the condition of whites in the South, he cannot help thinking that they are "accomplices in a crime". This sudden revelation takes him back at the time of his childhood when he was brought to witness the castration of a black man accused of having raped a white woman. As he sees the castration, young Jesse wishes that he was the person performing the act against the black man. This event is crucial in defining Jesse's life and his racism. It also causes him to identify as a rapist twice in the course of the story. He first shouts at a black civil rights leader in jail “You lucky we pump some white blood into you every once in a while—your women!”. Then, at the end of the story, he explicitly identifies with a "nigger" telling his wife he's going to make love to her as if he was a black rapist: “Come on, sugar, I’m going to do you like a nigger, just like a nigger, come on, sugar, and love me just like you’d love a nigger.” Jesse stops projecting his own repressed guilt onto black men and becomes himself guilty of rape. This has been interpreted as Jesse's increasing awareness of his guilt and thus as a possible sign of his becoming cured of it. Yet, to the eyes of the white society, this acceptance of guilt would be a betrayal of the race.

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