Mary’s murder gives Bigger a sense of power and identity he has never known. Bigger’s girlfriend, Bessie, makes an offhand comment that inspires him to try to collect ransom money from the Daltons. They know only that Mary has vanished, not that she is dead. Bigger writes a ransom letter, playing upon the Daltons’ hatred of communists by signing his name “Red.” He then bullies Bessie to take part in the ransom scheme. However, Mary’s bones are found in the furnace, and Bigger flees with Bessie to an empty building. Bigger rapes Bessie and, frightened that she will give him away, bludgeons her to death with a brick after she falls asleep.
Although it originated as a series of separate magazine pieces, Notes of a Native Son is unified by recurring themes and by the arrangement of the essays. The book is divided into three parts and a preface, “Autobiographical Notes,” which introduces Baldwin’s determination to be “an honest man and a good writer.” The preface’s brief account of his childhood and emerging literary aspirations not only provides background for the essays that follow but also establishes the book’s dominant underlying theme: a black artist’s search for his identity. Baldwin explicitly recognizes that “the most difficult (and most rewarding) thing in my life has been the fact that I was born a Negro and was forced, therefore, to effect some kind of truce with this reality.” He goes on to argue that the black writer must find a way to overcome hatred and fear in order to provide an honest assessment of both his own personal experience and his complex, often painful relationship to American society and Western culture.