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Big Black Good Man

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"Big Black Good Man"

In 1957 Richard Wright wrote "Big Black Good Man" in reference to what had been going on in Little Rock, Arkansas. "Big Black Good Man" is one of many short stories in a collection call "Eight Men" (Reuben). At the time President Eisenhower sent paratroopers to Little Rock to stop the violence over desegregation of the public schools. During this time in the United States prejudice had become a big issue. Richard Wright was raised in the south and was aware of the racial issues that he grew up before he had moved to Chicago (Rayson). "Big Black Good Man" expresses the thoughts and feelings of a white protagonist. The ways people judge each other based on looks can lead to false assumptions of how an individual is represented. You can't judge a book by its cover and you certainly can't judge a person by their color. Olaf Jenson is a night porter who learns a lesson about being prejudice.

The story takes place in Copenhagen, Denmark at a hotel for sailors and students. Olaf Jenson, a short and stout white male, works for a hotel checking in and out customers that come to stay for the night. Sailors come in from different parts of the world looking for a place to stay while making requests for women and whisky. Olaf, who just turned sixty, remembers what it's like to be young and often assists the sailors with their requests. It was a rainy night and Olaf was at work, sitting back and toasting to himself for tomorrow he turned sixty. He took a puff off his cigar and finished his beer. As he begins to get ready to take a nap for it was late into the night, a customer shows up at the door. "Olaf sat up slowly, not to answer but to look at this brooding black vision; it towering darkly some six and a half feet into the air, almost touching the ceiling and its skin was so black it had a bluish tint" (Wright 234). This is the very first moment that Olaf meets Jim, a sailor that comes to stay for a few days at the hotel. Olaf is very intimidated by the size and the color of Jim. Olaf knows nothing of this man and automatically refers to Jim as a "black vision". The very first thought of Jim shows that Olaf is afraid because of the size and color of Jim. Olaf shows no respect for Jim because he continues to call him names such as "big black cloud" and "black giant". Olaf has had customers of many races come to his hotel, including colored people, but because this one is ten times as big as he and can crush him in one blow Olaf hides in fear and intimidation. Jim is dressed in a nice suite, carried a new suite case, and wore black gleaming shoes. Jim also hands Olaf a roll of money made up of fifties and hundreds and tells Olaf to put it in his safe. Olaf takes the money in awe and puts it in an envelope and into a safe.

After Jim is settled in his room, he then asks Olaf for a woman and a bottle of whiskey. Olaf hesitates when Jim asks this of him, he wants to say no, that's its too late and there are no women, but Olaf knew that would sound too fishy. Olaf has brought women of different races to many men of different races but for some reason he felt uneasy about fulfilling this request. He calls upon Lena, a white woman with four kids to feed and clothe. Lena was willing and ready, she says "He's just a man" (Wright 237). Olaf chooses a white woman hoping that she would have the same feelings he has towards this big black man. Lena shares none of the feelings that Olaf has and he is upset at this. Olaf thinks to himself, "Why am I so damned worked up and nervous about a nigger and a white whore?" (Wright 237). Olaf even leaves the door slightly open so that he can hear when Lena leaves. Olaf begins to worry about why she stays so long and eventually Olaf falls to sleep. When Lena is done and comes to give Olaf his cut of his money he asks how was it and Lena replies "What the hell's that to you?"(237). Jim requests Lena all six nights that he is there and this makes Olaf feel uneasy. Olaf falters each time that Jim asks for Lena but he still calls and tells her. Olaf counts down the days that Jim is there because he knew that Jim would not be there for more than six days.

On the sixth day Olaf awaits Jim to check out. Jim pays Olaf for his stay and even gives him a tip. Before Jim walks out he asks Olaf to stand up. Olaf is terrified and slowly gets up. Olaf is thinking that Jim is going to hurt him because Jim takes his hand and puts it around his neck. Jim applies a firm grip but he is not hurting Olaf as he examines his neck and size. Olaf is so scarred that he evens wets his pants. Jim then says goodbye and leaves. All Olaf can think about is how Jim was trying to scare him and the fact that he could kill him if he wanted to. Olaf fails to recognize that

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