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Summary

This story is about a black man called Sargeant and is set during the Depression. At the beginning of the story, Sargeant gets off a freight on a snowy evening, hungry, sleepy, and tired. He approaches the door of Reverend Dorset, covered in snow.

The Reverend Dorset immediately determines that Sargeant is unemployed and tells him, "I'm sorry. No!" He directs Sargeant to the Relief Shelter and closes the door, although he already knows that the Relief Center will almost certainly be full, have no food left, and "[draw] the color line anyhow."

Sargeant turns away from the Reverend's porch and approaches a church, which has two doors. Only while he is gazing up at the church does Sargeant notice that it's snowing. He tries the church door and finds that it is locked; driven by his hunger and tiredness, Sargeant begins to push until the door gives way.

This has drawn the attention of several white people, and after the door breaks open, a police car arrives. But Sargeant has no intention of being arrested—he grabs onto the church door and holds on while the policemen begin to pull. They pull, beat Sargeant, but Sargeant holds on—and eventually the church collapses. It begins to fall down, covering those in the street with debris, until it has collapsed entirely.

Sargeant gets up and starts walking up the street, carrying the pillar, thinking of the Reverend who sent him away and laughing. He throws the pillar away and keeps walking.

When he looks around, he sees someone walking beside him and realizes that it is Christ. Christ tells him that he had to pull down the church to get Christ off the cross. Christ seems pleased with what Sargeant has done—"they both laughed" together. Christ talks to Sargeant in a colloquial fashion and the two walk to the railroad yards.

When they arrive, Sargeant asks Christ where he is going, saying that he himself is "just a bum on the road." Christ says, "God knows . . . but I'm leavin' here."

Sargeant identifies a "hobo jungle" where he can sleep in the railroad yard. Christ says he is going on to Kansas City, and the two part.

Sargeant sleeps in the railroad yard until the morning, when he wonders where Christ has gotten to by now. He gets into a train, but finds that the train is full of policemen, who begin hitting him. One of the policemen tells Sargeant to stop yelling, because he isn't on a train, but in jail.

At this point, Sargeant realizes that he really is in jail. He is bleeding, and recognizes that he must have been locked in the cell for breaking down the church door on the previous evening. He feels "emptier than ever," but the thought rises in his mind—"I wonder where Christ's gone? I wonder . . . if he's gone to Kansas City?"

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Sargeant, an African American vagrant, seeking food and shelter, arrives in Reno, Nevada, in late 1934 in the midst of a dangerous snowstorm. It is bitterly cold but his overwhelming concern is to find food. To him, the snow falls almost undetected; he is too hungry, sleepy, and tired to notice the storm. The first potential refuge that Sargeant encounters is a parsonage. Its occupant, the Reverend Mr. Dorset, opens the parsonage door and sees Sargeant as “a human piece of night with snow on his face” standing on his porch. Before Sargeant can open his mouth, Dorset directs him to the local relief shelter, emphatically stating that he cannot stay at the parsonage.

The parsonage door shuts in Sargeant’s face before he can say that he has already been to the relief shelter and that it is not open to his kind. Sargeant recalls his vast experience with similar relief shelters, which are usually out of beds, out of food, and out of bounds for him.

As Sargeant stands outside the forbidden parsonage, he connects it to the large church next door—one with two large doors. Dazed by hunger and cold, he stands before the church steps observing its high, arched doors, with pillars on each side, balanced higher up by a window displaying a crucifix...

(The entire section is 1,077 words.)