Short summary - The Respectful Prostitute - Jean-Paul Sartre

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Respectful Prostitute
Jean-Paul Sartre

The action takes place in a small town in one of the southern states of America. Lizzie McKay, a young girl, arrives from New York by train, where she witnesses the murder of one of two blacks by a white man, who, as the killer later explained, allegedly wanted to rape Lizzie. The next morning, the surviving gray-haired black man appears at Lizzie's door and begs her to testify to the police that the black man is innocent, otherwise he will be lynched by the residents of the city who are already hunting him. Lizzie promises to fulfill his request, but refuses to hide it and slams the door in front of him.

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At this time, Fred, her nightly guest, a wealthy and well-groomed young man, comes out of the bathroom. Lizzie confesses to him that she avoids receiving random guests. Her dream is to make three or four regular old friends who would visit her once a week. Although Fred is young, he looks personable, so she offers him her permanent services. Fred tries not to show her that she made a strong impression on him, so he starts to be insolent and pays only ten dollars. Lizzie is indignant, but Fred orders her to shut up and adds that otherwise she will be behind bars. He may well give her this pleasure, since his father is Senator Clark. Lizzie gradually calms down, and Fred starts a conversation with her about yesterday's incident on the train, described in the newspapers. He wonders if the negro was really going to rape her. Lizzie replies that nothing like this happened. The negroes talked very calmly among themselves. None of them even looked at her. Then four whites entered. Two of them began to pester her. They won the rugby match and were drunk. They began to say that the compartment smelled of blacks, and tried to throw the blacks out of the window. The negroes defended themselves as best they could. In the end, one of the whites got his eye knocked out, then he pulled out a revolver and shot the negro. Another Negro managed to jump out the window when the train approached the platform.

Fred is sure that the Negro will not have long to walk free, since they know him in the city and will soon be captured. He wonders what Lizzie will say in court when she is summoned to testify. Lizzie declares that she will tell what she saw. Fred tries to talk her into not doing it. In his opinion, she should not bring a person of her race to justice, especially since Thomas (the name of the killer) is Fred's cousin. Fred forces her to choose whom she would prefer to betray: some negro or Thomas, "a decent person" and "a natural born leader." He even tries to bribe the girl with five hundred dollars, but Lizzie does not want to take his money and bursts into tears, realizing that Fred had only been thinking about how to spend her all night.

The doorbell rings, and shouts of "Police" are heard. Lizzie opens the door and two cops, John and James, enter the room. They demand Lizzie's documents and ask her if she brought Fred to her place. She replies that it was she who did it, but added that she was making love unselfishly. To this Fred replies that the money lying on the table is his and he has evidence. The police force Lizzie to choose: either she herself go to prison for prostitution, or to document that Thomas is not guilty, because the judge, if confirmed, is ready to release Thomas from prison. Lizzie flatly refuses to whitewash Thomas, even despite Fred's threats to imprison her or place her in a brothel. Fred is indignant at the fact that the fate of the "best man in town" depends on the "ordinary girl". He and his buddies are at a loss.

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Senator Clark appears in the doorway. He asks young people to leave the girl alone and declares that they have no right to terrorize her and force her to act against her conscience. In response to Fred's protesting gesture, the senator asks the police to leave, and he himself, making sure that the girl is not lying and that the negro really did not threaten her honor, begins to lament poor Mary. When Lizzie asked who Mary was, the senator replied that this was his sister, the mother of unfortunate Thomas, who would die of grief. Having said this, the senator pretends to leave. Lizzie is clearly upset. She's sorry for the old lady. Senator Clarke asks the girl not to think about his sister anymore, about how she could smile at Lizzie through her tears and say that she will never forget the name of the girl who returned her son to her. Lizzie asks the senator about his sister, learns that it was at her request that the senator came to Lizzie and that now Thomas's mother, this "lonely creature thrown overboard by fate," is waiting for her decision. The girl does not know what to do. Then the senator approaches the matter from a different angle. He invites her to pretend that the American nation itself is addressing her. She asks Lizzie to make a choice between her two sons: a black man who was born by chance, God knows where and from whom. The nation fed him, and what did he give her? Nothing. He messes around, steals and sings songs. And another, Thomas, the complete opposite of him, who, although he did very badly, is one hundred percent American, a descendant of the oldest family in the country, a graduate of Harvard University, an officer, the owner of a factory where two thousand workers work and who will become unemployed if their owner will die, that is, a person absolutely necessary for the nation. With his speech, the senator confuses Lizzie and, having assured, moreover, that Thomas’s mother will love her like her own daughter, makes the girl sign a document justifying Thomas.

After Fred and Senator leave, Lizzie already regrets giving up. Twelve hours later, a noise is heard from the street, a negro's face appears in the window; grabbing the frame, he jumps into an empty room. When the doorbell rings, he hides behind a curtain. Lizzie walks out of the bathroom and opens the door. On the threshold is a senator, who wants to thank the girl on behalf of his sister sobbing with happiness in the arms of his son and give her an envelope with a hundred-dollar bill. Not finding the letter in the envelope, Lizzie crumples it and throws it on the floor. Would she have liked it if Thomas’s mother had gone by herself? worked hard to choose something for her to her liking. It is much more important to her attention and consciousness of what a person is seen in her. The Senator promises to thank Lizzie in due time and return soon. After he leaves, the girl bursts into sobs. The screams in the street are getting closer. The Negro comes out from behind the curtain, stops near Lizzie. She lifts her head and screams. The negro begs to hide him. If they catch him, they will douse him with gasoline and burn him. Lizzie feels sorry for the negro, and she agrees to hide him until morning.

The pursuers post sentries at both ends of the street and scour house after house. A phone call rings in her apartment, and then three people enter with guns. Lizzie declares that she is the very girl who was raped by the Negro, so she has nothing to look for him. All three leave. Fred appears after them, he locks the door behind him and hugs Lizzie. He reports that the pursuers nevertheless caught the negro, although not the one, and lynched him. After the lynching, Fred was drawn to Lizzie, which he confesses to her.

A rustle is heard in the bathroom. When Fred asks who is in the bathroom, Lizzie replies that this is her new client. Fred declares that from now on she will not have clients, she - only him. A black man comes out of the bathroom. Fred pulls out his revolver. The negro runs away. Fred runs after him, shoots, but misses and returns. Lizzie, not knowing that Fred missed, takes the revolver, which Fred, upon returning, threw on the table, and threatens to kill him. However, she does not dare to shoot and voluntarily gives him the weapon. Fred promises to settle her in a beautiful house with a park, from where she, however, will not be allowed to leave, because he is very jealous, give a lot of money, servants and visit her three times a week at night.