Going to Meet the Man


"Going to Meet the Man" is a 1965 short story by James Baldwin, taken from the short story collection, Going to Meet the Man.

Plot summary

Jesse, the town's sheriff, and his wife, Grace, are in bed. They are both white living within a small southern city. Jesse wants to have sex with his wife, but cannot seem to have the energy or ability to get an erection. He lies with his wife in bed, waiting the night out with his thoughts and ideas. He calls out to his wife gently, to see if she is awake. She moans softly that she is; his wife was actually dozing off to sleep. Jesse cannot contain a thought in his mind about how he enjoys having rough sexual intercourse with black women, and in his mind he calls black people degrading names. While he is quietly thinking to himself, he hears a car come by on the gravel road. He then continues his thoughts about blacks, the town, and his own personal racist remarks. In order to reconcile with his racist beliefs, he justifies it as the actions of a just, good man whose aim is to protect the citizens of his district. The husband informs his wife of Big Jim C's attempt at making quiet a batch of black men who were singing; the account is intermingled with vehement racism, though the man is sure that he is doing the right thing. He then remembers when he was a child and his father took him to see a black man being lynched. Jesse's father is also the sheriff of the town. The black man that is tortured was apparently running away and was caught and found. His genitals were cut off while the white townspeople stood around watching this black man hanging from a tree, his hands chained above his head, tied to the tree. The black man was naked and a fire was set beneath him. Jesse was taken to this hanging/torturing as a child by his parents, both of whom made him watch this horrible, violent scene. Jesse's father was at peace when showing him these horrifying events. Jesse is actually happy he was trusted to observe such an event by his parents.

In the last paragraph of the work, Jesse's thoughts return to the present moment, and he now has found that he is "horny" and "hard". He grabs his wife gently, and tells her that he is going to have sex with her as if he were a black man, intimating that he will have rough sex with her. In the last line, as he partakes in his sexual actions, Jesse hears a Rooster crow and the sound of tires on the gravel outside his house.

  • Jesse, a deputy sheriff
  • Grace, Jesse's wife
  • Big Jim C (possibly a reference to Jim Crow as well as a reference to Alabama Sheriff Jim Clarke, who orchestrated violence against those participating in the Voting Rights march from Selma to Montgomery )
  • Mrs. Julia Blossom
  • Otis, Jesse's childhood black friend
Main themes
  • Racism
  • Sexual repression
  • Sexual identity
  • Sexual violence
  • Black identity
  • Racial violence

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