Going to Meet the Man

by

James Baldwin

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Jesse, the protagonist of “Going to Meet the Man,” is a racist 42-year-old white police officer who lives with his wife Grace in the American South in the early 1960s. Part of Jesse’s job involves squashing civil rights protests alongside his coworker Big Jim C. After arresting several members of a voting rights protest, Jesse is tasked with making them stop singing and almost beats the protest leader to death in the process. Jesse hates the protest leader and all of the young Black people trying to make change, but he was not always full of racist rage. As a child, he had a Black friend named Otis whom he cared for and respected. He started to embrace violence against Black people after his father and mother took him to witness a lynching. Watching the lynching victim be castrated and killed as hundreds of white people shouted in glee, Jesse was informally inducted into his racist white community. As an adult, Jesse has trouble staying erect while having sex with Grace, but he becomes aroused thinking about violence against Black men. Though he sometimes feels shame about this, by the end of the story he does not, having aggressive sex with Grace and telling her, “I’m going to do you like a nigger.” After feeling angry and powerless, Jesse suddenly feels optimistic and free.

Jesse Quotes in Going to Meet the Man

The Going to Meet the Man quotes below are all either spoken by Jesse or refer to Jesse. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Going to Meet the Man published in 1995.
Going to Meet the Man Quotes

This was his wife. He could not ask her to do just a little thing for him, just to help him out, just for a little while, the way he could ask a nigger girl to do it. He lay there, and he sighed. The image of a black girl caused a distant excitement in him, like a far-away light[.]

Related Characters: Jesse, Grace
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:

“They had this line you know, to register”—he laughed, but she did not—“and they wouldn’t stay where Big Jim C. wanted them, no, they had to start blocking traffic all around the court house so couldn’t nothing or nobody get through, and Big Jim C. told them to disperse and they wouldn’t move, they just kept up that singing, and Big Jim C. figured that the others would move if this nigger would move, him being the ring-leader, but he wouldn’t move and he wouldn’t let the others move, so they had to beat him and a couple of the others and they threw in the wagon…”

Related Characters: Jesse (speaker), Protest Leader
Related Symbols: Big Jim C., Singing
Page Number: 232
Explanation and Analysis:

“She’s gone out?”

The boy said nothing.

“Well,” he said, “tell her I passed by and I’ll pass by next week.” He started to go; he stopped. “You want some chewing gum?”

The boy got down from the swing and started for the house. He said, “I don’t want nothing you got, white man.” He walked into the house and closed the door behind him.

Related Characters: Jesse (speaker), Protest Leader (speaker), Julia Blossom (“Old Julia”)
Page Number: 234
Explanation and Analysis:

He began to tremble with what he believed was rage, sweat, both cold and hot, raced down his body, the singing filled him as though it were a weird, uncontrollable, monstrous howling rumbling up from the depths of his own belly, he felt an icy fear rise in him and raise him up, and he shouted, he howled, “You lucky we pump some white blood into you every once in a while—your women! Here’s what I got for all the black bitches in the world—!” Then he was, abruptly, almost too weak to stand; to his bewilderment, his horror, beneath his own fingers, he felt himself violently stiffen—with no warning at all…

Related Characters: Jesse (speaker), Protest Leader
Related Symbols: Singing
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

They felt themselves mysteriously set at naught, as no longer entering into the real concerns of other people—while here they were, out-numbered, fighting to save the civilized world. They had thought that people would care—people didn’t care; not enough, anyway, to help them. It would have been a help, really, or at least a relief, even to have been forced to surrender.

Related Characters: Jesse
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

Their friends, in other cars, stretched up the road as far as he could see; other cars had joined them; there were cars behind them. They were singing. The sun seemed, suddenly, very hot, and he was, at once very happy and a little afraid. He did not quite understand what was happening, and he did not know what to ask—he had no one to ask. He had grown accustomed, for the solution of such mysteries, to go to Otis. He felt that Otis knew everything. But he could not ask Otis about this.

Related Characters: Jesse, Otis
Related Symbols: Singing
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

He had come this road many a time and seen women washing in the yard (there were no clothes on the clotheslines) men working in the fields, children playing in the dust; black men passed them on the road other mornings, other days, on foot, or in wagons, sometimes in cars, tipping their hats, smiling, joking, their teeth a solid white against their skin, their eyes as warm as the sun, the blackness of their skin like dull fire against the white or the blue or the grey of their torn clothes.

Related Characters: Jesse
Page Number: 244
Explanation and Analysis:

The man with the knife took the nigger’s privates in his hand, one hand, still smiling, as though he were weighing them. In the cradle of the one white hand, the nigger’s privates seemed as remote as meat being weighed in the scales; but seemed heavier, too, much heavier, and Jesse felt his scrotum tighten; and huge, huge, much bigger than his father’s, flaccid, hairless, the largest thing he had ever seen till then, and the blackest.

Related Characters: Jesse, Lynching Victim
Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:

“Well, I told you,” said his father, “you wasn’t never going to forget this picnic.” His father’s face was full of sweat, his eyes were very peaceful. At that moment Jesse loved his father more than he had ever loved him. He felt that his father had carried him through a mighty test, had revealed to him a great secret which would be the key to his life forever.

Related Characters: Jesse’s Father (speaker), Jesse
Page Number: 248
Explanation and Analysis:

He thought of the boy in the cell; he thought of the man in the fire; he thought of the knife and grabbed himself and stroked himself and a terrible sound, something between a high laugh and a howl, came out of him and dragged his sleeping wife up on one elbow. She stared at him in a moonlight which had now grown cold as ice. He thought of the morning and grabbed her, laughing and crying, crying and laughing, and he whispered, as he stroked her, as he took her, “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.”

Related Characters: Jesse (speaker), Grace
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis:
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Going to Meet the Man PDF

Jesse Character Timeline in Going to Meet the Man

The timeline below shows where the character Jesse appears in Going to Meet the Man. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Going to Meet the Man
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Grace asks Jesse what’s wrong and he says he isn’t sure, that he might be tired. She suggests... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
Grace tells Jesse to go to sleep since he has a hard day tomorrow and he agrees, rolling... (full context)
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Lying down, Jesse listens to the sounds outside. He hears a car on the road and reaches for... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
Jesse moans; he is a healthy, God-fearing 42-year-old man who didn’t used to have trouble sleeping... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Turning toward Grace, Jesse thinks that he would like to be buried inside her and not have to go... (full context)
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
Thinking of the mail-order business reminds Jesse that he had trouble with one of his former customers’ grandchildren just today. He starts... (full context)
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Jesse explains with bitter laughter how the protestors had formed a line at the courthouse to... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
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Like Big Jim C., Jesse decided to target the protest leader, who was already bleeding and moaning on the ground... (full context)
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Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
Jesse stops speaking and, in a flashback, he’s prodding the protest leader as the man rolls... (full context)
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As Jesse moves to leave the cell, the protest leader calls out, “White man.” Jesse stops in... (full context)
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
Looking at the unconscious protest leader, Jesse suddenly remembers that this man—who he has seen at several protests over the past year—was... (full context)
Learning Racism Theme Icon
In the silence, Jesse sees the boy-aged version of the protest leader looking at him with malevolence and begins... (full context)
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Back at the jail house, Jesse looks down at the protest leader’s nearly dead body and thinks how he would like... (full context)
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Still furious, Jesse starts to complain about the protesters’ singing. The singing is familiar and oddly comforting. He... (full context)
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
Jesse remembers that there are a lot of “good niggers” around who would smile and quietly... (full context)
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
The older white men who taught Jesse how to be a man have become quieter and less confident telling certain jokes. He... (full context)
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Learning Racism Theme Icon
...guns through the Army and they could stockpile weapons like protestors in Europe and Africa. Jesse and his friends still curse the government and make jokes, but they are afraid to... (full context)
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While this racial conflict feels like war, Jesse and his friends have not developed the unspoken communication and trust of true soldiers. Without... (full context)
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
Suddenly a line of a song comes to Jesse: “I stepped in the river at Jordan.” He can hear the melody but can’t place... (full context)
Learning Racism Theme Icon
In a flashback, it is nighttime, and Jesse is in a car between his mother and father, sleepy and excited. He hears the... (full context)
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Jesse says that he didn’t see Otis this morning, though he’s not sure why he says... (full context)
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Learning Racism Theme Icon
That night in bed, Jesse is unable to sleep. The darkness weighs on him, and he wants to call to... (full context)
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Learning Racism Theme Icon
In the morning, eight white people in a car approach the house with excitement. Jesse’s father runs to them and asks, “They got him, then?” Jesse recognizes some of the... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Learning Racism Theme Icon
Two more cars approach to join the conversation, and Jesse notices that everyone looks excited. They are also all carrying food, which makes it feel... (full context)
Learning Racism Theme Icon
Jesse gets in the car and sits close to his father, feeling he is about to... (full context)
Learning Racism Theme Icon
Jesse has questions he wants to ask, such as “Will Otis be there?” but he doesn’t... (full context)
Learning Racism Theme Icon
Jesse hasn’t seen any Black people so far on the drive. They are passing houses where... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Learning Racism Theme Icon
The hill they are driving on gets steeper and the day feels colder. Jesse’s mother and Jesse’s father look straight ahead, seeming to listen to the singing. Suddenly, Jesse... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Learning Racism Theme Icon
...make it to a sun-filled clearing where there are hundreds of people staring at something Jesse can’t yet see, though he assumes there is a fire, since he can smell smoke.... (full context)
Learning Racism Theme Icon
Jesse’s father picks Jesse up and puts him on his shoulders, which grants him a view... (full context)
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Learning Racism Theme Icon
Jesse feels the urge to say something, but he doesn’t know what. A man puts more... (full context)
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Learning Racism Theme Icon
Jesse notices that the lynching victim wants death to come quickly, but the crowd wants it... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Learning Racism Theme Icon
Jesse turns to look at his mother, whose face seems more beautiful than ever and also... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Learning Racism Theme Icon
...he takes the hanging man’s genitals in his hands, cradling them as if weighing them. Jesse feels his scrotum tighten as he notices how large the lynching victim’s penis is, much... (full context)
Learning Racism Theme Icon
...bleeding and burned hanging man, tearing at his body with their hands, knives, and stones. Jesse’s head falls downward toward his father’s. Someone throws kerosene on the hanging body, and it... (full context)
Learning Racism Theme Icon
As Jesse’s mother laughs with the other women, Jesse’s father walks them toward the lynching victim’s dead... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
Learning Racism Theme Icon
...the lynching victim in the fire, and the knife that was used to kill him, Jesse becomes aroused and starts to touch himself, letting out a howling sound as he drags... (full context)