Going to Meet the Man

by

James Baldwin

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Singing Symbol Icon

Throughout “Going to Meet the Man,” singing symbolizes communal power and strength. This symbol is introduced near the beginning of the story when Jesse tells Grace about his day at work, how he was tasked with making Black civil rights protestors in jail stop their coordinated singing. Jesse targets the protest leader, asking him to tell the others to stop singing, but, despite being tortured almost to death, the man refuses, showing how the protestors are intentionally using song to maintain their power in the face of oppression.

Later, after moving through rage at the protestors’ refusal, Jesse reflects on other times he has heard Black people sing, specifically recalling singers who he felt were asking for mercy from God. Historically speaking, throughout slavery and Jim Crow, Black Americans used spirituals to connect with each other and stay strong in the face of extreme racial violence.

Singing returns near the end of the story as Jesse is reflecting on how white people are losing the race war and, suddenly, the lyrics of a Black spiritual pop into his mind. He remembers hearing the song coming over the fields the night before witnessing a lynching as a child, how his father suggested they were singing for the man about to be killed. Again, in the face of violence, Black characters use song to express their feelings and stay strong. The following day, a young Jesse hears cars and cars of white people singing on their way to witness the lynching, a symbol of the power white people held at the time.

Singing Quotes in Going to Meet the Man

The Going to Meet the Man quotes below all refer to the symbol of Singing. 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

“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:

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:

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:
Get the entire Going to Meet the Man LitChart as a printable PDF.
Going to Meet the Man PDF

Singing Symbol Timeline in Going to Meet the Man

The timeline below shows where the symbol Singing 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
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
...the protestors had formed a line at the courthouse to register to vote, blocking traffic, singing, and refusing to move. Jesse’s former customer’s grandson was the protest leader, so Big Jim... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
...prodded the man with his cattle prod and told him to make the protestors stop singing. When the man didn’t respond, Jesse prodded him again and watched him roll around in... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
...asking him if he’s had enough. The man is silent, but the other protestors continue singing and Jesse instinctively kicks the man in the jaw, thinking to himself, “this ain’t no... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
...names yet. Before passing out again, he tells Jesse that the protestors will not stop singing until white men like him lose their minds. (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
...open. Jesse begins to shake with what he thinks is rage, noticing that the protestors’ singing has become “monstrous.” Unable to control himself, he shouts to the man that he is... (full context)
Learning Racism Theme Icon
Still furious, Jesse starts to complain about the protesters’ singing. The singing is familiar and oddly comforting. He understands that they are singing to God,... (full context)
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
...the words to some of their songs—he hadn’t looked at Black people when they were singing before, but he did not like the hatred he was seeing in these young peoples’... (full context)
Civil Rights, Progress, and Resistance Theme Icon
...begins to sweat and feels a combination of fear and pleasure thinking of Black people singing this song. Even more lyrics come: “I stepped in the river at Jordan. / The... (full context)
Learning Racism Theme Icon
...the fields. More lyrics come to Jesse. Jesse’s father wearily suggests that they might be singing for “him” before adding that, even when mournful, Black people sound violent. Jesse’s mother tells... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Learning Racism Theme Icon
...parents prepare for the drive and Jesse notices that he can hear the sound of singing from the visitors’ cars as they drive away. (full context)
Learning Racism Theme Icon
...other cars. Cars have filled in behind Jesse’s parents’ car as well. He can hear singing coming from all of the cars. He feels both happy and afraid and does not... (full context)
Sexuality, Pleasure, and Racial Violence Theme Icon
Learning Racism Theme Icon
...feels colder. Jesse’s mother and Jesse’s father look straight ahead, seeming to listen to the singing. Suddenly, Jesse feels they are strangers to him, noticing his father’s lips have a cruel... (full context)