What Are the Themes of the Short Story “Going to Meet the Man”?

Some of the major themes of James Baldwin’s story “Going to Meet the Man” include racism and justice, as well as the intersections between sex, violence and power. Through the internal thoughts of an impotent white deputy in the segregated South, Baldwin explores how racism is taught and propagated, along with the long-term effects of brutal violence on a character’s sense of morality and justice.

“Going to Meet the Man” follows the thoughts and memories of Jesse, a corrupt Southern deputy who revels in violently policing the black community. The narrative begins with Jesse in bed, unable to perform sexually and unable to sleep. Baldwin explores his thoughts about his work, his community and his desires. Eventually, he remembers witnessing the brutal execution and dismemberment of a black man as a child, and finds that recalling the scene sexually arouses him.

By following the character’s thoughts back to that first moment of violence and linking it to his sexuality, the story fleshes out some of its major themes and concerns. The elation the character takes in remembering violence gives him a sense of power, while seeing the execution influences his ideas about the black community, morality and justice, as well as his impotence, which is metaphorically linked to emerging freedoms for black Southerners.