Going to Meet the Man

Going to Meet the Man Summary

James Baldwin's 1965 anthology of stories "Going to Meet the Man" explores the lives of characters living in or otherwise connected to the American South. Some of the characters live in New York City, or in the case of the one celebrity protagonist, have fled the United States to live in France. But for all of these characters, we see that America, according to Baldwin, is entirely unsafe and nearly unlivable for a black person. The situation is made even harder for those whose sexuality falls outside the norm. The following are short summaries of each of the eight stories that appear in the anthology.

In "The Rockpile," Johnnie and his little brother Roy are left alone in their apartment one afternoon while their mother visits a neighbor's place. Despite his mother's explicit orders, and Johnnie's appeals to reason, Roy climbs down the fire escape to play on the giant rockpile between two houses on their block. Roy is caught in the middle of a fight and catches a tin can to the face, resulting in a bleeding wound. Despite the fact that it's only a minor wound, when their father Gabriel returns home, he overreacts and scapegoats Johnnie. Gabriel favors Roy because Johnnie was fathered by a different man, before his mother married Gabriel.

In "The Outing," Johnnie, Roy, and Johnnie's friend and lover David join their congregation on the annual group outing. This year, they've chartered a boat to take to Bear Mountain. But when David spends the whole trip trying to gain the romantic favor of Sylvia, Johnnie suddenly fears that David may leave him behind for a more socially acceptable relationship.

In "The Man Child," eight-year-old Eric celebrates his neighbor's thirty-fourth birthday with his parents. Jamie is jealous of Eric's mother, because he is in love with Eric's father. Jamie also lost his inherited land and had to sell it to Eric's father. At the end of the story, Jamie kills Eric, ensuring that the land wouldn't be inherited by anyone after his father dies.

"Previous Condition" features a young actor named Peter who struggles to find housing in New York in any neighborhood other than Harlem. He feels estranged from both the black community and white man's world which shuffles him around from apartment house to apartment house unjustly. He feels misunderstood by his lover, Ida, who has a tendency to relate the prejudices that black people face to white marginalized groups, like the Irish.

"Sonny's Blues" is narrated by an algebra teacher whose little brother, Sonny, is arrested on heroin-related charges. When Sonny is released from jail, he comes to live with the narrator and his family. While Sonny was in jail, the narrator's daughter died of polio. After Sonny is released, the narrator tries to better understand Sonny's perspective by going to see one of his jazz shows in the Village.

In "This Morning, This Evening, So Soon," a celebrity musician and movie star describes his trepidations about raising a son in America after he, himself, finally found freedom from the white man's world of America in France. The celebrity and his director, Vidal, go to a discotheque the night before his journey back to America and meet a group of black students who admire the narrator's work. They spend the evening with the students, eventually running into Boona, a former acquaintance of the narrator's who hails from North Africa. The American students allege that Boona stole money out of one of their purses. They all go their separate ways, and the narrator returns home to get ready for the trip to America.

In "Come Out the Wilderness," a woman named Ruth fears that her boyfriend Paul is preparing to leave her. Meanwhile, at work, she's granted a promotion by Mr. Davis, the only other black employee at the insurance agency. By the end of the story, Ruth fears that a relationship with Mr. Davis is inevitable.

In "Going to Meet the Man," Jesse, a police officer in a rural Southern county, fears a new wave of resistance from black residents. He is used to be able to use force to maintain the unjust social hierarchy in which he was raised, but as of recently, force isn't working like it used to. At the beginning of the story, it's suggested that he's impotent, and he is only able to perform sexually after remembering a scene of extreme violence perpetrated against a black man that he witnessed as a child.