Jesse’s cruelty is absolutely horrifying and disgusting. Similarly, his absolute delusion and evil persuasion of his own blessedness or security is terrifying. In the very first paragraph, after Grace tells him he has been working too hard, he aggressively spits back ” ‘it’s not my fault.’ ” In this first refusal to take responsibility for the choices that are effecting his soul and community, Jesse hints at his absolute disconnect from reality. A master manipulator, Jesse argues to himself that “he had tried to do his duty all his life.” This doesn’t include thinking critically about the abusive misconception of duty he is working under. Indeed, the narrator claims Jesse “had never thought much about what it meant to be a good person.” There is a deeply disturbing assumption of rightness in Jesse’s character. This allows him to justify all sorts of evil behaviors.
He blames the kids he manipulates for their innocence, laughing at how “they all liked him, the kids used to smile when he came to the door.” His delusion of complete superiority enables his absolute domination and manipulation. He again harks back to his lack of responsibility, claiming his violence “wasn’t his fault” if his Black neighbors had “taken it into their heads to fight against God and go against the rules laid down in the Bible for everyone to read.” Again, Jesse makes an uninformed, uncritical, and vicious appeal to a greater morality in order to explain away his responsibility. Even in his memories, Jesse tells himself a story of an unchangeable or natural corruption and superiority. He claims his childhood self had “wished that he had been that man,” inflicting violence on the lynched man.
In all these examples, there is a sense that the greater religious and societal systems are just as corrupted. After the lynching, Jesse feels his father “carried him through a mighty test, had revealed to him a great secret.” In this language, almost like that between God and Abraham, Baldwin hints at the way white Christianity has been so thoroughly perverted, to a satanic point almost.
This eerie horror does slip into Jesse consciousness, even if he ultimately overcomes it through the his vicious domination. There is a deep anxiety in Jesse’s character that his Black neighbors are “singing white folks into hell.” When met with a resistant young Black boy, Jesse feels trapped, “perhaps one of the nightmares he himself had dreamed as a child.” He responds to this feeling with cruelty, but the horror of the moment is not lost on him. Similarly, the terror of young Jesse at the lynching, especially regarding his father’s dark joke (“if he don’t come back to haunt you”), precedes his ultimate delusive and perverted moral security or comfort at the end.
In his haunted evil, Jesse portrays the way America’s white patriarchy has passed down and institutionalized a delusion of superiority, premised on violent Black death.
(sorry no page numbers, using a PDF!!!)