Going to Meet the Man vs. Dry September

Note: this style of writing is called “block writing.” A string of thoughts, analyzing the structure in which authors build their arguments.

I have never had so much trouble reading a story than when I read “Going to Meet the Man.” The horrific account described at the end is one I will never be able to forget. This is Baldwin’s intention, I realize, but the illustration of the burning is so vivid, so unpleasantly realistic and evocative that it made my heart stop and my blood turn to stone. I found the speed of my reading increasing just to try to get through the passage, and having to put the book down two, three, four times before being able to reach the last paragraph. I am so ashamed of my race for having done such things to such people. I am plainly disgusted by the ability of those present at all those “festivities,” “picnics” as they may have called them. And the fact that they could possibly eat afterwards. Fuck you racists, I hope you die a horrible death and that you yourselves burn forever. Baldwin, I am mad at you too for having put me through this. For the reason that I have read two authors’ accounts of similar occurrences, I do not doubt that these things actually happened the way they did. For the longest time, I was able to blame the mindset of these people for committing the crime. The killing of any living being is something few can bear to endure, much less dismemberment, enucleation and incineration. I always thought those capable must be psychopaths, chemically imbalanced and unaware of true morality, yet the fact that there were crowds in both instances ensures that the killing of blacks was indeed a common phenomenon, and that it was socially accepted in some places. Both authors have succeeded in making me distraught, sick and sad in that order. Faulkner never incites such anger in me as Baldwin does, though. Baldwin uses more graphic imagery to make the reader feel the disgust he himself feels towards white supremacists. The enthusiasm and motive of the characters involved in killing the African American is the different than in “Dry September.” For the section leading up to the burning in “Going to Meet the Man,” the ignorant excitement, the romantic description of “the sense of going on a great and unexpected journey,” (243) and Jesse’s father whose “lips had a strange, cruel curve,” wetting “his lips from time to time” (244) is like that of the ravenous wolf about to eat his prey. This behavior is different than the way McLendon and his followers are described in “Dry September.” In Faulkner’s depiction, they are on a mission to avenge the act of the supposed rape of Miss Minnie Cooper, yet they are in constant fear of being caught for this “valiant” act. In “Dry September,” it is their duty as men to kill Will Mayes, whereas in “Going to Meet the Man,” it is about the enjoyment of the spectacle. The reason for this could be the differences in the nature of each author’s intended message or their individual mental attitudes on the topic that the characters act differently, or both. I also noticed that the black man being burned in Baldwin’s story is only referred to as “the nigger.” We mentioned in class that Will Mayes also does not have a name in the first paragraph. In fact, Baldwin doesn’t use any black person’s name except for Otis, Jesse’s childhood friend. He could have written it this way because Jesse has a personal relationship with him, but the man being burned is important to the story as he is the reason for the first time Jesse ever got a thrill from seeing a black man tortured. Baldwin’s style is much more poignant, he wants the reader to feel the way he does. Faulkner’s technique is more subtle, he is not as forward, yet both he and Baldwin leave the reader thinking. I am always confused after finishing Faulkner’s fiction, trying to make sense of what his message is; the significance of the story is often lost to me until we attempt to discover it in class through literary dissection. In “Dry September,” we follow McLendon through his rampage and convincing techniques, and we are not given the satisfaction of seeing his actions but must assume that he and his gang killed Will Mayes. He is then found in his bedroom, beating his wife and feeling distraught because of the heat or whatever. It is unclear how Faulkner wants us to think of McLendon after this. Obviously, he is a swine, but I wonder whether he a product of circumstance, trapped in his title of commander, expected to protect his people from the perpetual threat of the blacks. He must be unhappy with himself if he has to take his aggression out on others. I do not know if Faulkner’s intention is to make us sympathize with McLendon, but I find it hard to do so because of my own moral compass. In “Going to Meet the Man,” however, it is clear how Baldwin wants us to feel about Jesse, his father, his mother and everyone who is willing and capable of committing and/or watching such unconscionable acts. He wants us to hate them and everything they stand for. I insist on this because Baldwin does. Jesse thinks of himself as a “good man, a God-fearing man” (230) after engaging in adultery (raping a ‘black piece’), after prodding a man like an animal until he “rolled around on the floor and blood started coming from his mouth” (232). While in his own thoughts and recollections, Jesse uses racial slurs more times than I care to count, attempts to find a way of ‘bringing peace’ to his town by searching all the houses or simply burning them if it were only more convenient. He denounces his government by calling it half-assed, and victimizes himself and those comparable to him for being outnumbered by blacks and people who didn’t care enough to help them. He then finally gets aroused by recounting his first burning, and does his wife while thinking of those he views as animals, and tells her! Baldwin makes his character an angry and frustrated monster, Faulkner makes his character an angry and frustrated imbecile. All the same, my antipathy towards the two of them is ever-present. In both stories, on the way to their destination, Faulkner and Baldwin describe an element of suffocation that gave me the feeling of claustrophobia. “Dust puffed about him, and in a thin, vicious crackling of sapless stems he lay choking and retching” (179). The barber has just thrown himself out of the car and cannot breathe. “The sunlight filtered down on them from a great height, as though they were underwater; and the branches of the trees scraped against the cars with a tearing sound” (244). While the barber escapes having to witness the death of Will Mayes by throwing himself out of the moving car, Jesse does not. He is a forced witness, regardless of whether he wants to experience what he is about to see. He is young and confused, while he does have a sense of foreboding throughout, but he does not have the inclination to do something so rash for he is but a child and knows no better. Yet he is forced to continue down that narrow road while all is “silent but the bumping of the tires against the rocky road,” as I am forced to read on in silence and anticipation. These two descriptions draw a clear and familiar image in my mind, as I have been engulfed in dust and held underwater as well. I have been put in circumstances I didn’t want to be in. By using images to reproduce sensations which many can relate to, these two authors are able to convey this feeling to the receptor. Baldwin is more traditional in his use of grammar, too. This is more what I am used to, and on the first page I was looking forward to being able to follow the story more easily.


Baldwin, James. Going to Meet the Man. 1st Vintage International ed. New York: Vintage, 1995.

Faulkner, William. Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner

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