1. Where and during what time in American history does the novel take place?
2. Who are the Thomases, and where and how do they live?
3. Who are the Daltons, and where and how do they live?
4. What job does Mr. Dalton offer Bigger?
5. What is one of the sources of Mr. Dalton’s wealth?
6. What views toward African Americans does Mr. Dalton profess to hold?
7. Why does Mary Dalton make Bigger so uncomfortable?
8. Who is Jan Erlone, and what is his political affiliation and philosophy?
9. Why do Jan and Mary try so hard to befriend Bigger, and why is Bigger reluctant to accept their friendship?
10. Why does Bigger plan to implicate Jan in Mary’s death?
1. The novel is set in Chicago, in the late 1930s, during the Great Depression. It is a time of great poverty in America, and much social unrest.
2. The Thomases are an African-American family. Mrs. Thomas lives with her sons Bigger and Buddy, and her daughter Vera, in a one-room tenement apartment in Chicago’s South Side ghetto. The family is very poor, and is on relief (welfare).
3. The Daltons are a rich white family; Henry and Mrs. Dalton live in a mansion in the wealthy part of town, with Mary, their only child, and several servants.
4. Bigger is offered and accepts the job of Dalton family chauffeur. He is...
(The entire section is 517 words.)
1. What experience causes Bigger to look with disgust at his family’s tenement room?
2. What lie does Bigger tell to Mr. and Mrs. Dalton and Mr. Britten, to make them think that Jan must know something about Mary’s disappearance?
3. Why does Bigger keep the Communist pamphlets Jan has given him, and what happens when they are discovered?
4. Why does Bessie drink liquor, and what does her drinking have to do with her relationship to Bigger?
5. How does Bessie give Bigger the idea to pretend Mary has been kidnapped, and then to try to extort ransom money from the Daltons?
6. How does Bigger use the ransom note to cast suspicion about Mary’s disappearance on the Communists?
7. What does Bigger do that leads to the discovery of Mary’s remains, and why does he do it?
8. Who finds Mary’s remains, and under what circumstances does he find them?
9. Why does Bigger force Bessie to flee with him, and why does he kill her?
10. What crime besides murder do the whites who are hunting for Bigger assume that he has committed, and why do they assume this? Has Bigger committed this crime?
1. Bigger is filled with disgust and shame at his family’s cramped and dirty room after he has seen the Daltons’ magnificent and spacious home.
2. Bigger tells them that he drove both Jan and Mary back to the Dalton house last night, when in fact he had dropped Jan off and returned home with only Mary.
3. Bigger keeps the pamphlets, because he intends to use them to throw more suspicion on Jan. Ultimately, he manages to do so, but not before Mr....
(The entire section is 701 words.)
1. What is the difference between a grand jury and a trial jury? Between an inquest and a trial?
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?
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...
(The entire section is 863 words.)