It is always an odd and uncomfortable feeling using a term that for a long time was one of abuse. To describe someone just because of their colour was sadly part of life at the turn of the last century but in this story Dreiser widens out the bigotry from racism to also make it a statement about City versus country ways and a question of who really is guilty.
* A man is accused of raping a 19 year old and a lynching party sets off to try and find the man to bring him to justice at their own hands so a reporter from the city newspaper is sent out to cover the story
* He is disturbed by the thought of a lynching but files a story reporting that the sheriff has the man in the cellar of his home and appears to have defused the situation but even so the reporter tells the paper to wait for potential updates
* Sure enough the father and the son with a posse of supporters manage to get up top the sheriff’s house and get past the official and take Jeff and cart him off to be hanged in revenge for the crime he committed that morning
* After Jeff is left to hang the reporter struggles to get the thoughts clear in his head but before heading back to the city he walks to Jeff’s house and there sees his corpse and discovers his mother crying over the body
* As he walks out he feels a horror at the events but the power of the mother’s grief leaves him with the angle to take on the story – an account of a lynching that destroyed more than it rectified
More from this fascinating collection from Dreiser tomorrow…