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The Lynching of Jube Benson | Summary and Analysis

Summary of The Lynching of Jube Benson by Paul Laurence Dunbar

‘The Lynching of Jube Benson’ is a short story written by Paul Laurence Dunbar. It is a story within a story which shows three men conversing casually and one of them gives his personal experience of lynching that burdens him with guilt forever. The story explores the themes of racism, prejudice injustice, and guilt.

The Lynching of Jube Benson | Summary

The story is set in Gordon Fairfox’s library with three people- him, Dr. Melville, a young doctor, and Handon Gay, an ambitious news reporter having conversations on various issues.  Handon Gay starts talking about a lynching story in a recent magazine and how justice is served without trial. Gay expresses that he can see one, Fairfox doesn’t want to but if a real lynching is to occur he will not avoid it, and Dr. Melville tells how he has already seen one and taken a prominent part in it as well.

The reporter asks Dr. Melville to narrate the story and he insists on how he had taken part in the lynching of Jube Benson, seven years ago.

It was summer, and he was recently out of medical college. He then moved to Brandford for his medical practice. He abandoned his idea of practicing in wider fields and settled into the place of a modest country doctor among white and black people. That was a strange decision for such a young man he wondered and he somewhat blamed it on his host’s (the landlady of his office space)  beautiful young daughter, Annie Daly. He then mentions Jube, a black man who was trusted by everyone and worked for the Daly where he was strongly devoted to Annie. He helped Dr. Melville court Annie. Dr. Melville got busy looking after patients during typhoid outbreaks for three months and he caught the germs, Jube took entire charge of him with Dr. Melville’s physician friend.
One afternoon he came back after visiting one of his friends to see a crowd surrounding his place. He made his way through the crowd to see Annie bruised,  bleeding, and near death. He knelt at her side and asked her who did it, but she died after identifying the culprit as “That black–“. An intuition passed among the men in the crowd that Jube Benson had disappeared and so it was assumed he was the attacker. The search parties formed a lynch mob to hunt down Jube and punish him.

They looked for him in the woods and every nook and corner possible and Dr. Melville found him. All of them rushed to him and surrounded him. He tried to explain that he came to visit his girlfriend, Lucy while Dr. Melville helped others bind him on the horse. He was given no chance to plea or explain himself, they took Jube to the house to confront him with Annie’s corpse and the men later dragged him to the yard where they hanged him to a tree.

They heard a cry and saw Jube’s brother Ben dragging the real attacker. He was Tom skinner, the worst white ruffian and it was not the face the townspeople were accustomed to but rather blackened with dirt to imitate a Negro. Dr. Melville realized Jube was dead and was past help, he later rushed to Annie’s body and found curled skin underneath her nails. He found the skin to be a white man’s when he examined them in his office and that filled him with extreme guilt. He tried to help Ben carry Jube but Ben pushed him away blaming him to be the friend who helped others kill Jube.

He is burdened with guilt as he helped kill an innocent man, “his ears kept crying, ‘Blood guilty! Blood guilty!”‘.
He now sits with shame and guilt that he has been carrying in his heart for seven years and he rises from his seat and tells his companions “Gentlemen, that was my last lynching.”

The Lynching of Jube Benson | Analysis

The story begins with three people, Dr. Melville, Handon Gay, and Gordon Fairfox having casual conversations regarding various issues in a library. The tone is harmless until Dr. Melville starts talking. Handon Gay, the young report brings out the topic of lynching that he has recently seen in the local magazine and the manner of justice without trial kickstarts the plot.

Three of them express their views on what they will do if they come across lynching and Dr. Melville provides an account of his personal experience.
This short story doesn’t follow the traditional structure as it is a story within a story where Dr. Melville narrates a part of his life that happened in Bradford seven years ago.

He narrates how seven years ago he passed out of medical college and went to Bradford for his practice. He could have applied for wider fields but he chose to stay in the modest country because of a young girl named Annie Daly, the beautiful daughter of his landlady who gave him space for his office. He then introduces Jube Benson, a young black man who works for Annie. Jube is devoted to Annie but feels Dr.Melville is a good man and hence helps him in courting her. When Dr. Melville suffers from Typhoid by treating the townspeople, Jube takes responsibility and stays by his side all the time time, eventually nursing him back to health.
When Dr.Melville comes to know about this, they become good friends and he considers Jube an angel.
The friendship lasts for six months before they meet a tragedy. One day Dr. Melville returns home to see Annie bruised, bleeding, and on the verge of dying. She had been raped and when Dr. Melvills asks her who it is she dies by only mentioning the attacker as ” The Black–“. This enrages the crowd and they turn into lynch mobs, Dr. Melville too gets hold of his rifle. They assume it is Jube, only on the basis that he is black and he isn’t seen anywhere.

Dr. Melville mentioned while introducing Jube that everyone trusts him. But with Annie’s statement, everyone loses their minds. This reflects how the whites have a stereotype against black people and how they use it to portray them wrongly and even cause violence against them. They immediately blame a black person if there is any violence or crime that has occurred only on a simple assumption that he is black.
The narrator initially trusts him like everyone in the country. He is obliged by Jube’s favor of nursing him back to health and fell in love with him. He confesses to loving him for his selfless deed but he dehumanizes him even without realizing it. He refers to Jube as “a perfect Cerberus” and a “Black but gentle demon”
But a single moment alters Dr. Melville’s perception regarding Jube and his character.

The men set out looking for Jube and When Dr. Melville finds him he calls him by the name “hound”. The description of his friend becomes more negative with Annie’s death. He doesn’t trust Jube’s pleas and gets busy binding him to the horse. The image of the friend that he previously associated with Jube turns into that of a monster and the idea that the devil is black.

The prejudice against black people blinds him with anger and violence that he cannot think reasonably about how benevolent of a man Jube is who has taken so much pain to earn his friendship.
The men hang Jube without any second thoughts and it is too late to undo their mistake when Jube’s brother arrives with the real culprit, Tom Skinner who had smeared his face with dirt to imitate a black man. Dr. Melville finds curls of flesh underneath Annie’s fingernails and takes them to his office to examine. He finds them to be the flesh of a white man. He is buried in guilt when he realizes what he has done. He helped murder an innocent man, a good friend and a devoted servant, and on top of everything a benevolent man. Jube dies with shock, and a sense of betrayal because the man he considered his friend betrayed his trust.
The regret and guilt will forever haunt him.

When he ends his story he just sits with his head dropped in silence which symbolizes the guilt that he still carries with him. Racism and prejudice against black people made him wrongly accuse an innocent man and take his life.

As the short story is shown as a story within a story, the first story where three men converse is set in Gordon Fairfox’s library. The events are explained by a third-person narrator.
Dr. Melville’s reaction to the topic of lynching hints at Dr. Melville’s past.  He narrates the tragedy that happened seven years ago.
And the story within story-  Dr. Melville’s story – is set in Bradford which is shown as a small place inhabited by white as well as black people ” whites from every section and black from nigger town”. The story of Bradford is narrated by Dr. Melville.

The Lynching of Jube Benson | Themes

Racism and Injustice – The story explores the theme of racism and injustice through Jube Benson. A black, kind man who works devotedly for Annie becomes a victim of injustice because of racism and prejudice.
Dr. Melville unintentionally dehumanizes Jube even when he confesses to liking him. He refers to Jube as the “perfect Cerberus”, a “Black but gentle demon”, and a “nigger” and when he finds him after Annie’s death he calls him a “monster”.

Dr. Melville becomes Jube’s friend, in the beginning, but when Annie dies referring to her attacker as ” The Black–“, he along with other men in the crowd assumes Jube is the attacker because he is black. The deep-rooted racist views affect the people at that point and they are blinded with anger. Jube was introduced as a person whom everyone believed in the country. But Jube was just one crime away to be treated like an animal. Jube when sees the mob thinks they are going to whip him because he could feel something has happened and they are blaming him. But it is worse, they fasten him to a horse, later drag him to a yard, and hang him. Jube is given no chance to explain himself. Jube’s brother arrives with the real culprit but it is too late. An innocent man is killed only because it is a preconceived notion that black people are unreliable. The townspeople forget how kind Jube was to everyone and that they all believed him, and how devoted he was to his master. They just killed him without thinking reasonably or trying to investigate the matter. He is killed based on an assumption.

Guilt – The narrator, Dr. Melville has been carrying with him the burden of guilt for seven years. He cannot forget his former black friend, Jube Benson’s last words and his face before he is hanged to death. The prejudice against black people made him commit a crime that is unforgivable and tragic. He narrates his experience of lynching that happened during the time he passed out of medical college and settled in the modest country for his medical practice. He falls in love with his landlady’s beautiful daughter, Annie, and her servant Jube helps him impress her. Jube felt Dr. Melville is a nice man and so he even kept other suitors away from Annie. Dr. Melville considers Jube to be his angel as Jube helped him recover from typhoid and they become friends. But this doesn’t last long as when Annie is raped and killed he along with other townsmen turns against Jube. His anger and racist thoughts take over him and he is filled with a thirst for revenge. Jube thought Dr. Melville will save him from the townsmen because they are friends. But he didn’t know Dr. Melville sees him as a monster now. He too blames Jube for Annie’s death and wants him dead. He mercilessly ties him to the horse and later hangs him. He realizes his mistake when Jube’s brother appears with the real attacker but it is too late to undo his mistake. A silly assumption makes him take the life of an innocent. He is filled with more guilt when he gets the proof of Jube’s innocence. In the present, he sits with the burden of regret and guilt on his chest after he finishes narrating his story to his companions.

The Lynching of Jube Benson | Characters

Dr. Melville is one of the three companions sitting in Gordon Fairfox’s library busy conversing on various topics and issues. His hair is sprinkled with gray which tells he is a nan of forty or forty-five but his face says he is thirty years old. He revisits his experience of lynching that occurred seven years ago when he passed out of medical college. His prejudice and values taught against black people make him commit an unforgivable sin. He helps the townsmen kill an innocent man who is also his former friend.

Jube Benson is a benevolent black man who worked for Daly family and was extremely devoted to Annie Daly. He befriends Dr. Melville at the beginning as he nurses Dr. Melville back to health when he was suffering from typhoid and also helped him court Annie because he believed Dr. Melville was a good man. He faces racism which leads to his death in the story. Annie is bruised and killed and her death is blamed on Jube as Annie had mentioned “The Black–” as her last words. Jube was missing that day and the townspeople assumed it was Jube who hurt her. He faces betrayal when his friend Dr. Melville helps the men hang him to death. Jube is proven innocent by his brother Ben who brings with him the real culprit,  Tom Skinner.


About the Author
Paul Laurence Dunbar was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer of the 19th and 20th centuries who was born to parents enslaved during the civil war. Most of his writings were influenced by his life situation. He was the first writer to put the African American experience before the readers.



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