Chapter 5 Summary

The novel switches back in time to a night before Miss Burden’s murder. It is past midnight when Brown comes in, drunk and singing loudly. He runs into Christmas’s cot. Christmas tells him to shut it, but Brown begins to laugh maniacally. Christmas grabs his face and beats him repeatedly, but Brown continues to laugh. Christmas puts his hand over his mouth and nose and eventually Brown stops laughing and starts gasping for breath. Christmas lets go of him. Brown curses him, calling him “nigger blooded.” He differentiates between himself, a “white man,” and Christmas, a “nigger,” claiming that Christmas told him he was black. Christmas shoves Brown to the floor and reaches under his pillow for his razor. He pauses, deciding that this is not “the right one.” He knows something is going to happen to him.

Christmas leaves the cabin and goes up to the house, where he is accustomed to go whenever the desire to sleep with Miss Burden comes on him. He is angry that she lied about her age but mostly that she started to pray over him. In the dark, Christmas takes off his underclothes and walks out to the road. A car passes, its lights shining on him. He screams at the people in the car, but they drive on. He goes back, finds his underclothes, puts them on, and returns to the cabin. He grabs a blanket then goes out to sleep in the stable. At dawn he enters the cabin to find Brown asleep but sober. He grabs his razor and soap and puts them in his pocket. He goes out to make a camp under some bushes and falls asleep again. When he wakes, he shaves in the spring water then goes to the general store to buy some breakfast. He returns to his campfire by the bushes, eats his breakfast, and reads a magazine. When he is finished, he burns the magazine. He digs up some tins containing whiskey. He empties the whiskey onto the ground and reburies the tins.

Christmas returns that evening to the town, where he eats at a restaurant. Afterward, he walks by the barbershop and sees Brown inside. He walks on down to the black section of town, but the streets are empty. He then returns to the white part of town, passing several black people on the way. They take him for a white man. Christmas finds that he has his razor in his hand. He puts it back into his pocket. He sits down beneath a tree and wonders if Miss Burden is asleep. He knows something is going to happen to him.