In the first part of Richard Wright’s The Outsider we are introduced to the central character of the novel, Cross Damon, an African American. Damon works is a postal worker in Chicago and his life is fill of problems. He does not eat enough and he drinks too much, because he claims he has terrible problems sleeping. He is separated from his wife, Gladys, with whom he has fathered four children. He has a girlfriend called Dotty and he is also under pressure, because of the way he lives and has treated Gladys from his elderly mother, who disapproves of his behaviour. Dotty is pregnant by Damon. He calls his girlfriend on the phone to sat he will not be visiting her as he promised and they argue; he goes back to his apartment in an attempt to sleep, but cannot – his mind is too busy with all his problems. As the chapter proceeds Damon visits each of the women in his life and his life quickly gets even more complicated. The visit to his mother is not a great success: Dotty has been to see her and tell her that she is pregnant. Damon is heavily criticised by his mother for his treatment of both Dotty and his wife and existing children. He then goes to see Dotty and Wright tells us how they met in line at a liquor store, before the relationship became a sexual one. At Dotty’s apartment he finds a friend of hers there, Myrtle, and a doctor attending to Dotty. Myrtle is very hostile to him because of his treatment of Dotty. He picks up the phone when it rings and through a conversation with Mary (another of Dotty’s friends) he discovers that lawyers have become involved because Dotty is under-age and, if charges were pressed, he would be found guilty of statutory rape. Dotty had told him when they first met that she was seventeen, but now confirms that will be sixteen only in June. She wants Damon to marry her, but his wife Gladys will not agree to a divorce and Dotty will not agree to an abortion. In desperation he goes to see his wife to see if they can reach a compromise. He recalls how they met and how trouble first entered their marriage after Gladys found him in bed with another woman, after she returned from hospital having given birth to their first child. In the past he had beaten Gladys and his physical abuse of her became so bad that she made him leave. On this visit Gladys refuses to give him a divorce (like his mother she too has met Dotty) and also insists that he sign his half of the house over to her and borrow $800 against his salary to give to her. Damon gets the money from work and then takes the subway home. The subway train crashes and Damon survives, relatively uninjured, although having left his overcoat on the train. He is till brooding on all his problems when he hears an announcement on the radio about the crash he ahs been involve in which reports him as one of the dead: his overcoat has been found near the mangled, unidentifiable remains of another man. With a growing sense of shock, Damon realizes he is free because he is officially dead and he can leave all his troubles behind him. He checks in at a cheap hotel under the name Charles Webb, buys some new clothes the next day and pays for sex with a woman in the hotel – Jenny. He sees his own photo in the newspaper reporting his death and even watches his own funeral from a distance. He sleeps with Jenny and they agree to leave town together. Jenny is headed out west. Damon buys to bus tickets for Denver, one for Jenny and one supposedly for himself, but he actually catches a train to New York. While leaving the hotel to buy the tickets he comes across a workmate called Joe who recognizes him and realizes he is not really dead: after a brief struggle, Damon kills Joe by hitting him on the head and hurling him out of the hotel window.
In this section of the novel Damon meets two characters on the train to New York who are going to be important later in the plot. One is Bob Hunter, a black waiter in the dining car; Damon finds Bob’s accent unusual. The other is Ely Houston who a District Attorney in New York. Damon has a long conversation with Houston who seems sympathetic to the suffering and discrimination that African Americans experienced in the United States, both historically and now when the novel is set. On the train he witnesses an accident that occurs when Bob the waiter scalds a white woman with hot coffee; the woman threatens to sue, althouOn arriving in New York, Damon quickly finds a room in a house in Harlem owned by Hattie Turner. Hattie appeals for him for his advice on a business deal that she is considering. It is clear to Damon that Hattie is the victim of fraud and he asks to meet the two men who have offered her this property deal. He is firm with them and demands that they bring Hattie all her money back, but it is clear that they will never return. He also feels sorry for the way that Hattie has been cheated by these fraudsters. He is about to sleep with Hattie when he is overcome with self-disgust, flees to a bar and, after a few drinks, finds another room to live in. He realizes he needs a new identity and goes to an all-black cemetery to find the name of a recently deceased black man about the same age as himself. He does find the grave of Lionel Lane, who lived in New Jersey. He goes to Lionel’s parents house and asks a few questions about Lionel of the neighbours – enough to find out that Lionel was lazy and feckless. He then goes and gets a duplicate birth certificate from City Hall by pretending to be much more stupid than he is and amusing the white clerks who stereotypically expect him to be stupid because of his color. He visits Bob, the waiter from the train, who has been fired from his job because of the accident and Bob’s wife Sarah. Bob does not seem to resent Damon because he gave a false name and address and could not confirm that the scalding of the white woman was a complete accident. He has found a refuge in the Communist Party. Damon leaves and manages to steal Lionel Lane’s draft card before setting fire to the Draft Hall and returning to Damon meets visitors to Bob and Sarah’s apartment – Gilbert Blount and his wife Eva. Gil Blount almost immediately offers Damon a place to stay at their apartment and help with the fees to study at university. While he is at Bob’s, Damon also witnesses Jack Hilton deliver a Communist Party message to Bob – the message being that he sould stop trying to unionize his former train workers. Bob is upset, but Hilton gives no explanation, explain only that the Party demands total obedience. The chapter ends with Damon in his new room in the Blount’ apartment.
This section is very short. Damon visits Bob and Sarah to find them still very angry, especially Sarah, about the message delivered the night before by Hilton. Damon advises Bob to carry on his work. Damon has lunch with Eva and then, when she is out, enters her bedroom (she and her husband have separate bedrooms) and reads Eva’s private journal in which she reveals that Gil, her husband, was told to marry by the Communist Party, so that they could use her art for propaganda purposes. Damon has an angry confrontation with Mr Herndon, a racist who owns the building and is very aggressive to Damon. Later Bob arrives at the Blount apartment to plead with Gil for help: the Party know he is an illegal immigrant from Trinidad (which explains his unusual accent) and he fears that tthe Party will reveal his secret to the immigration authorities. Then Gil Blount and Herndon have a physical fight which Eva and Damon both witness. Damon returns and clubs both men to death, being careful to make it look as though they killed each other, He also locks the door. The police and Hilton, the Party official, are both contacted by phone.
This is a complicated chapter with the police and the Communist party both taking a close interest in the death of Gil Blount in particular because of his position in the Party. After very close questioning by the police, Damon seems to be in the clear and Houghton, the DA he met on the train, deciding that gil and Herndon have managed to kill each other. The Party remain very suspicious of Damon – because they cannot trace him as Lionel Lane. They seem to sense his intelligence but do not trust him. Damon is asked lots of probing questions by Hilton and Menti, loyal Party workers. Meanwhile, the Party have informed the Immigration Department of Bob’s origins and he has been seized from his apartment and taken to Ellis Island for deportation. Damon and Eva are falling in love with each other. Damon visits Hilton at his apartment and shoots him, making it look like suicide. He is interrogated by the police and manages to convince them he is innocent, while implying that Sarah might have been involved because of her anger over the Party’s role in her husband’s deportation (he knows that Sarah will have a strong alibi). Eva and Damon (who are now lovers) decide to move to Sarah’s apartment temporarily to relieve some of the pressure they are facing. The next morning Damon is interrogated by another Party official, Blimin, and he ends the chapter facing pressure from both the police and the Communist Party. At the very end of the chapter Damon arrives at Frank’s Restaurant where he had arranged to eat with the District Attorney, Houston. Instead of dinner though, he is picked up by two detectives who take him to Houston’s office for more questioning.
The DA and the police have discovered that Lionel lane is really Damon Cross from his fingerprints which match the ones held at the post office in Chicago. They know believe, but have no proof, that he killed Gil Blount, Hernden and Hilton; the DA is under pressure from the Communist Party to arrest Damon. Apparently his mother has died from the shock of hearing that he was alive and has run away without telling her. The DA has flown in Finch, a former post office colleague of Damon’s, and his wife and children to confirm his identity – which they do. Throughout all this Damon remains completely unmoved and impassive, and answers all Houston’s questions negatively. Houston has no choice but to let him go, and Damon even has the confidence to point out to Houston that the easiest man to accuse is the man who is totally innocent – he knows they have no evidence to charge him with. He returns to sarah’s apartment to find that Eva has been taken away by two Communist Party workers. She returns and it is obvious that the Party have told her all about Lionel Lane’s past life as Cross Damon. She and Damon have a very emotional confrontation, after which she locks herself in her room. At that point the Party workers arrive and shortly after them a man who reports that someone has just thrown herself out of a window in the apartment. It is Eva. Damon rushes downstairs to comfort her and an ambulance is called, but she dies. He is confronted again by Menti and Blimin, and also by Sarah who knows his real name and is wondering what he said to Eva to make her commit suicide. Sarah and Damon argue and Sarah goes to church to confess her sins. The District Attorney arrives and in a very long speech explains how he and the police managed to discover his real identity and his crimes, but ends by saying he does not have enough evidence to prove the case in court. Damon packs his bags, bids farewell to Sarah and then, at a loss as to what to do, phones Hattie Turner with whom he had lodged when he first arrived in New York. Just as Damon expected the fraudsters have not returned with her money and she is about to lose her house. Damon ahs the money she needs and he offers to come round immediately. As he is running for a taxi he is shot (presumably by someone from the Communist Party) and has a final conversation with Houston before he dies.