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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 573

In “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” plot becomes subordinate to character as an anonymous speaker, the “voice” of the title, reveals his innermost thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness monologue. The action of the story is largely internal, in the mind and memory of this narrator, as he recalls recent conversations...

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In “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” plot becomes subordinate to character as an anonymous speaker, the “voice” of the title, reveals his innermost thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness monologue. The action of the story is largely internal, in the mind and memory of this narrator, as he recalls recent conversations with his wife as well as his role in the death of Roland Summers, an African American civil rights leader in the small town of Thermopylae. The story concludes with the only external action in present time as the speaker begins to play his guitar.

The narrator, a white southerner in the early 1960’s who has been pushed beyond his limits by the growing Civil Rights movement, is filled with rage and insecurity as the traditional rules of his society begin to give way. The possibility of murder first occurs to him when he sees Summers’s face once too often on television, calling for equal rights for African Americans. He realizes that he has the power to eliminate that face permanently, even though he must borrow a delivery truck from his brother-in-law to carry out his predawn mission. He hides and waits for the black man’s new white car to approach the lighted garage and paved driveway of his home. Although the narrator has never seen Summers in the flesh, only his picture, he recognizes him instantly in spite of the darkness and shoots him down. Both he and Summers are trapped in the moment as he shoots, but now he can be certain that the dead man will never be his equal. At the same time, the narrator admits his envy of Summers’s green lawn and garage light, the shiny new car, and a standard of living that he himself cannot meet, as well as the waiting wife who rushes to the body.

The speaker’s own wife is not so loyal. She wonders why the shooting did not occur earlier for the good of the town, as a local white columnist suggested, and warns the narrator that the assassination will put Summers’s name back in the news. Worse, she has heard that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is going to send a more important official to Thermopylae; killing this official might have caused a greater impact. After her husband admits that he threw his rifle into the weeds, she accuses him of carelessly dropping it. In self-defense, he justifies the murder of Summers because he knows he has prevented some impulsive and careless teenager from doing the same thing and getting caught.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Summers’s face does indeed appear on television and in the newspapers; in contrast, the narrator has never even had a photograph taken. Rumors fly, including the possibility that the NAACP has killed Summers in order to create a martyr. However, the narrator is consoled by the fact that he is now worth a five-hundred-dollar reward, while Summers, the dead man, is worth nothing. The speaker is ready, even eager, for a fight between the races, ready for chaos and rebellion against the teachers, preachers, and courts who are so eager to tell him how to live. He believes that people like himself are ready to take control, to tell the courts, the police, and even the president when they have gone too far. Alone, he reaches for his guitar and begins to play.

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