Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 214
The unnamed protagonist is a black man who works at a plant, on the night shift. He is perpetually exhausted because he cannot get good sleep during the day and because he is constantly trying to force himself to swallow his anger at the racist treatment he receives from whites in his daily life. He is not a violent man; rather, he believes that he would never hit a woman. However, he ends up punching his wife in the face repeatedly after having been subjected to such racist cruelty during the day and attempting to repress all that anger.
His wife's name is Mae, and she also works the night shift at a different plant. She and her husband seem to have a really good relationship; he likes to make her giggle, and she teases him playfully. One can only imagine her absolute shock at his treatment of her at the story's end.
Two other characters, both white women, treat the protagonist cruelly: the forewoman at the plant who calls him a "nigger" for being late to work and the blond waitress who refuses to serve him coffee because he is black. After both incidents, the protagonist tries to swallow his anger, but he finds that the tension remains in his hands long afterward.
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