Book 3: Fate Summary and Analysis
Boris A. Max: lawyer from Labor Defenders, a Communist Party group, who takes Bigger’s case
Reverend Hammond: pastor of Mrs. Thomas’ church
Deputy Coroner: state investigator who conducts the preliminary inquest of Bigger’s case
Chief Justice Alvin C. Hanley: the judge who decides Bigger’s case
Mrs. Rawlson: Mrs. Dalton’s mother
Stenographer: otherwise unidentified white man who takes down Bigger’s jailhouse confession
H. M. O’Dorsey: the governor of Illinois
Calvin H. Robinson: police psychiatrist
All of the action in the novel to this point has taken place during less than two days—a much shorter span of time than it would seem at first glance. In Fate, with Bigger in custody and his life hanging in the balance, time appears very short indeed, even though several weeks elapse.
Bigger spends the first few days of his captivity as if he was in a trance. He is brought food but does not eat; he is threatened and bullied, but does not speak. Something inside him has given way. He feels empty, passive, defeated.
He is brought shackled to his pretrial hearing. This inquest is held before a “grand jury”, six white men who will decide whether and for what crimes Bigger shall be tried. Bigger notices Mr. and Mrs. Dalton and Jan Erlone among the faces he sees there. He faints, mainly from hunger and thirst, and when he is revived, he is back in his cell.
Bigger now takes a renewed interest in his fate. He eats and drinks, and asks for a newspaper, where he finds another lurid, racist story about himself. Bigger falls asleep but is soon awakened by a visitor. He is Reverend Hammond, pastor of Mrs. Thomas’ church, who preaches to Bigger, and then reads aloud a long passage from Genesis in the Bible. He hangs a wooden cross around Bigger’s neck just as Jan enters the cell. In a moving speech, Jan explains that when he found out that Bigger had killed his girlfried, he at first wanted to kill Bigger. Now, however, he wants desperately to put an end to the hatred, and to understand Bigger, and help him if he can. Bigger is moved by Jan’s sincerity, but tells him that his case is hopeless. Over the protestations of Reverend Hammond, who believes redemption is only attained after death, Jan brings in Boris A. Max, the Jewish lawyer from Labor Defenders. Quickly, Max persuades Bigger to accept his counsel. Then David A. Buckley, the state’s attorney, comes into the cell. He is surprised to see Max there, and tries to dissuade him from taking the case, telling him that the state has all the evidence it needs to send Bigger to the electric chair, with or without Max’s defense. Max does not budge from his support of Bigger. Buckley then brings in Mr. and Mrs. Dalton to buttress his arguments. He contends that Max should help the Daltons, who are supportive of “Negroes” generally, rather than a killer like Bigger. Mr. Dalton asks Bigger for the name of his accomplice, convinced that Bigger alone could never have committed such an elaborate crime. Then Bigger’s mother, brother, and sister are brought into the cell, and, behind them, Gus, G.H., and Jack, his friends from the poolroom. Bigger feels ashamed for his terror-stricken family, and is pained by their helpless and subservient position. He learns that his three friends were arrested, but that Jan and Boris Max got them out of jail. The entire fantastic scene—there are now thirteen people in Bigger’s cell—culminates when Mrs. Thomas, sobbing, falls to her knees and begs the Daltons to spare Bigger’s life. In her plea, we learn that she has been evicted from her tenement, which the Daltons own. The Daltons agree to allow the Thomases to stay where they are, but say they can do nothing for Bigger. The pathetic scene paralyzes Bigger with shame.
All leave the cell except Buckley. He tells Bigger that the Communists do not want to help him, but only want to exploit his case for their own gain. He says that they will prolong Bigger’s agony,...
(The entire section is 4,359 words.)