Book 3: Fate Questions and Answers

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 863

Study Questions
1. What is the difference between a grand jury and a trial jury? Between an inquest and a trial?

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2. Shortly after Bigger recovers from his fainting spell at the inquest, twelve people come to see him in his cell. Who are they?

3. What are some of the reasons that Bigger begins to trust Jan and Boris Max?

4. Why does Bigger attack Reverend Hammond and discard the cross Hammond has given him?

5. What two incidents in the novel indicate that the author believes that the psychiatric profession has contributed to racism?

6. Why does Boris Max, Bigger’s lawyer, ask that the judge alone, and not a trial jury, decide Bigger’s fate?

7. What plea does Max enter on Bigger’s behalf, and why does he do so?

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Latest answer posted April 18, 2012, 2:19 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

8. How many witnesses does prosecutor Buckley call to testify against Bigger? Why does Max object to his calling so many?

9. What charge against Bigger is most important to prosecutor Buckley? Why?

10. In their last meeting, what does Bigger say that so disturbs Boris Max?

1. A grand jury is convened to decide whether and on what charges an accused person should be indicted and tried. The grand jury hearing is also known as an inquest. If a grand jury recommends an indictment, then a trial may follow, at which a trial jury (or petit jury) is asked to render a verdict—to decide whether the accused person is or is not guilty. The accused also has the right to request that the judge alone, and not a trial jury, render a verdict.

2. Visiting Bigger are Reverend Hammond, Jan Erlone, Boris Max, David Buckley (the prosecutor), Mr. and Mrs. Dalton, Mrs. Thomas, Vera and Buddy Thomas, Gus, G.H., and Jack Harding.

3. Although Bigger believes that Jan and Max do not fully understand how he feels, he begins to trust them. He sees that Jan has lost someone he has loved, and even though Bigger is responsible for his loss, Jan, instead of hating Bigger, wants to understand him. Moreover, Bigger knows that many whites who hate him, also hate Jan and Max, because they are Communists. Finally, though Bigger does not understand Max’s speech at the trial, he recognizes that Max made it on his behalf and is proud of it on this basis.

4. The immediate cause of Bigger’s hostility for Reverend Hammond and the cross arises out of his awful encounter, outside the Dalton home, with a flaming cross, the symbol of Ku Klux Klan terror against African Americans. However, as Bigger later tells Max, he has always felt that religion served to keep African Americans submissive, because justice, according to the prevailing religious notion, comes only in the afterlife. “I want to be happy in this world, not out of it,” he says.

5. Wright expresses his disdain for the racism of the psychiatric profession in the episode when a black man who is considered insane by the white authorities is put into Bigger’s cell. The man may well be disturbed, but his “ravings” about racism are fundamentally true. In a second instance of psychiatric racism, Bigger reads an article about his case in which psychologists pronounce African-American men unable to resist white women.

6. If a jury were convened for Bigger’s trial, it would have been all-white, just like the grand jury was. Racism has tainted every professedly democratic institution in America, at one time or another. In the judicial system, African Americans have often been excluded from juries, especially when the accused was also African American. Given the racist climate in which the trial is being conducted, Max believes that Bigger has a better chance of getting a life sentence (as opposed to a death sentence) from the judge than from an all-white jury.

7. Max enters a plea of “guilty” for Bigger. Because of the overwhelming evidence against Bigger, including his own signed confession, Max knows that the judge will find him guilty, no matter what his defense might be. He decides to confine himself to trying to save Bigger from the electric chair, so that he might spend the rest of his life in prison.

8. Buckley calls sixty witnesses. Max objects that these are too many, because Bigger has already pleaded guilty. Max feels that the witnesses will only serve to excite race hate against African Americans, which, of course, is Buckley’s intention.

9. Buckley especially focuses on the charge that Bigger has raped Mary Dalton. Although the charge is untrue, it is the most racially inflammatory. Buckley is running for re-
election to another term as Illinois state’s attorney, and part of his campaign strategy involves exciting racial hatred in whites.

10. In an attempt to find a meaning in his life and his actions, and to find a way to face death, Bigger tells Max that he must have had a good and worthy reason to kill, a reason he must have believed in very deeply. He also says that he did not feel alive in this world until he “felt things hard enough kill for ’em.” He concludes by telling Max, “I’m all right. I feel all right when I look at it that way.”

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Book 2: Flight Questions and Answers