Going To Meet The Man Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 20-page guide for the short story “Going To Meet The Man” by James Baldwin includes a detailed summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement in the American South and Race and Sexual Violence.
Written by African-American author James Baldwin in 1965, this short story tells of the racial violence and strife between black and white Americans in a rural Southern town during the American Civil Rights Movement. The story’s main character, Jesse, is a white sheriff’s deputy. The story begins on the evening after Jesse and other police officers have arrested and brutally tortured a young black man protesting outside the courthouse.
Jesse lays in bed with his wife, Grace, that evening. Grace tries to arouse Jesse to have sex with her but he tells that he’s too tired. Grace tells Jesse he’s been “working too hard” (229). Jesse lays beside Grace, “silent, angry, and helpless” (229), thinking of how he can’t ask his wife to “do just a little thing for him, just to help him out” (229) like he could with a black woman, whom he refers to with the n-word. Grace tells Jesse to get some sleep. Jesse can’t sleep, though, as he worries about what the black people in their town might do in response to the violence Jesse and the other officers inflicted on the young black man. He hears a car approaching their house and reaches for his holster. The car continues past their house.
As he tries to fall asleep, Jesse reflects that “like any other man” (230), he sometimes wants “a little more spice” (230) than his wife can give him. In those cases, Jesse either picks up or arrests “a black piece” (230) and has sex with her. Jesse fears that now, with black people openly demonstrating against white brutality, even “the girl herself” (230) might make a move against him. Jesse wishes he never had to go back to the jailhouse again and hear the protestors’ singing, nor participate in a number of brutally violent acts against black arrestees. Jesse considers black people “no better than animals” (231) and blames them for living in conditions of poverty. Working as a payment-collector for a mail-order catalog, Jesse recalls how the black customers were “easy to scare” (231) and cheat out of money. He thinks about how he used to bring candy for their kids and wonders whether “the candy should have been poisoned” (231), as they’re now the young adults protesting outside the courthouse.
Jesse begins talking to Grace about the incident with the young black man at the jail, though his wife continues sleeping. Jesse calls the man “one of the ringleaders” (232) of the black people demonstrating outside of the courthouse that day. Jesse says that Big Jim C., a high-ranking police officer, wanted to make an example of the young man to get the protestors to “stop that singing” (232). The police had arrested the man a few times before, taking him “out there at the work farm” (232). After arresting him at the protest, Big Jim C. and the other officers beat the man and bring him to the jail. Jesse is supposed to get the singing to stop so he decides to use his cattle prod on the man. He yells at the man to “make them stop that singing” (232). The man acts like he doesn’t hear Jesse as he writhes in pain. Jesse prods the man until the cell fills “with a terrible odor” (233), though Jesse knows he’s not supposed to kill the man.
Jesse starts to walk out of the jail cell when the man on the floor calls to him. Calling Jesse “white man” (233), the man asks if Jesse remembers “Old Julia” (233). Jesse turns to see the man laying on the floor with one swollen eye “barely open, glaring like the eye of a cat in the dark” (233). The man says his grandmother’s name…