Going to Meet the Man

Going to Meet the Man Summary and Analysis of "Going to Meet the Man"


The final story, "Going to Meet the Man," is also the title story of Baldwin's collection. It is told from the extreme-close third-person perspective of a forty-two-year-old police officer named Jesse, and begins with a scene where Jesse, lying in bed with his wife Grace, tries to describe the trouble he is having at work combating the resistance of the black community in their county against the extreme and violent abuses of the white men in power. Of course for Jesse, who believes that white supremacy is simply the natural order of things, this resistance seems evil and unprecedented. He tries to explain to his wife what happened at work that day, but she barely listens because she's trying to sleep. It's 2 a.m. at the start of the story.

Jesse finds himself having trouble performing, sexually. The narrator states, "He was a big, healthy man and he had never had any trouble sleeping. And he wasn’t old enough yet to have any trouble getting it up—he was only forty-two." Jesse wants his wife to help relieve his sexual frustration, but thinks that as his wife, and as a white woman, he couldn't ask her to do any of the degrading sexual acts that he thinks would spark his desire.

His thoughts race, and he feels the desire "to hold [Grace], hold her, hold her, and be buried in her like a child and never have to get up in the morning again and go downtown to face those faces." Jesse's thoughts clearly indicate that he is afraid of the resistance he's been facing at work. He's afraid of what he perceives as uncivilized behavior from the black community. He thinks about how in the past, when he felt sexual desire outside of the margins of what he deems "appropriate acts" for his wife, he would sleep with a black prostitute, or he would arrest a black woman and force himself on her. But these days, he was afraid to do that, for fear of retaliation.

Despite his wife being asleep, Jesse pushes on with his story. He talks about how that day, a crowd of black residents lined up around the courthouse in what seems to be a stand-in or protest of some sort. They refused to disperse when the head police commanded them to. Jesse says they were singing, and they wouldn't stop singing. So Big Jim C., Jesse's boss, suggests that they beat the "ring-leader" of the men and women lined up outside the courthouse. When Jesse confronts the "ring-leader" in his jail cell, he is already bloodied and beaten. The other jailed demonstrators are still singing in their cells. So Jesse continues to beat the leader, and he even touches a cattle prod to the young man's genitals, but he refuses to yield. He will not tell the others to stop singing. He says to Jesse, from the ground, “My grandmother’s name was Mrs. Julia Blossom. Mrs. Julia Blossom. You going to call our women by their right names yet.—And those kids ain’t going to stop singing. We going to keep on singing until every one of you miserable white mothers go stark raving out of your minds.”

Julia Blossom used to be one of Jesse's stops when he was in the mail-order business. This memory sends him back to a particular day in his childhood when his mother and father took him to witness the lynching of a black man in their county. Jesse remembers his parents and the other white people treating it like a Fourth of July picnic. The scene described is gruesome. The man is chained up above a high fire, and some white men lower and raise the chain to prolong the man's death. He's naked, up above the fire, and the flames burn off his body hair. Then, one of the white men takes a long blade and cuts off the man's genitals. The crowd joins in, throwing stones and sticks and whatever they can get their hands on at the man hanging from the tree. Then they drop what's left of him in the flame. The execution is treated as a potluck. After the man dies, the white people migrate to the table of food.

When the scene returns to Jesse's bedroom in the present day, it is almost morning, and he is overcome by a violent and sexual urge. He begins having sex with his wife before she's even fully awake, and his urge seems also fueled by a violent, racist psychology. He says, “Come on, sugar, I’m going to do you like a nigger, just like a nigger, come on, sugar, and love me just like you’d love a nigger." Jesse seems, at one point in his life, before he witnessed that mob execution, to have been open to seeing black people as just other people. He had a friend named Otis who was black, and he would take all the questions that he was afraid to ask his own parents to Otis. But after witnessing the execution, the notion that black people are less than human seems permanently burned into Jesse's perspective; yet, as demonstrated by the last scene, and by his obsessive way of talking about work throughout the story, he cannot extract himself from the narrative of institutional racism and his relationship as a white man with the struggles of black people in America.


For many of the stories in this collection, the narrative takes either a first-person or close-third person perspective on a black character, and examines their relationship with whiteness and the "white man's world" in America. The exception to this is "The Man Child," which revolves around white people and never references race, but instead examines the sexuality of the two white adult male characters in the story. In "Going to Meet the Man," Baldwin departs from the established norm of the collection by taking on an extreme-close third-person perspective on a virulently racist white police officer in the south named Jesse. His wife is somewhat ironically named Grace, meaning "courteous goodwill" and in Christian belief, "the free and unmerited favor of God." The idea that Jesse needs grace relates to his memory of encountering older, religious black people who he felt at times "were singing for mercy for his soul, too."

Throughout this collection, Baldwin develops the theme of black people acting falsely subservient or acquiescent towards white people, and the perspectives of his previous protagonists and narrators examine the depths of that behavior, the pressures to act a certain way towards white people in order to protect their personal safety. In "Going to Meet the Man," Baldwin writes about the same theme, but from the perspective of a white man who feels that this is the way black people ought to act, and finds it unnatural when they don't. This passage sums up Jesse's perspective on this very issue:

And there were still lots of good niggers around—he had to remember that; they weren’t all like that boy this afternoon; and the good niggers must be mighty sad to see what was happening to their people. They would thank him when this was over. In that way they had, the best of them, not quite looking him in the eye, in a low voice, with a little smile: We surely thanks you, Mr. Jesse. From the bottom of our hearts, we thanks you. He smiled. They hadn’t all gone crazy.

This shift in the perspective of the same issue demonstrates how obtuse and opaque racism is in America, and how the perspectives of the men and women who uphold these institutions were forged in them as children. The title of this story also makes a fitting title for the entire collection because of the multiple interpretations of the phrase "The Man." The Man, in some cases, could refer to God, idiomatically, as in "The man upstairs." The phrase "the man" also refers ambiguously to the prevailing hegemony. Since this collection deals so heavily with themes of power and institutional racism, almost every story, in one way or the other, refers to "The Man."