The Opposing Characters Of Virgil & Gillespie – Literature Essay
John Ball’s In The Heat Of The Night introduces us to the two characters, Virgil Tibbs and Bill Gillespie. In the novel they are shown as two completely opposite characters
whose personalities differ. The apparent theme in the novel is racism and how people would deal with it in the 1960s. Some terms and methods talked about in the book are quite different from those used today. Although there are the occasional people who one would disagree with, this book seems quite appropriate for today. In general, teenagers find themselves having to cope with racism and prejudice in our society. The novel, In The Heat Of The Night, besides dealing with the issue of prejudice, focuses on the major differences that exist between the two main characters.
In the beginning of In The Heat Of The Night, we are introduced to Virgil Tibbs. Virgil is shown as a police officer that is wealthy, proper and an intelligent young black man. He is first brought into the story as a suspect for the murder of Enrico Mantoli, in the city of Wells. Soon after, he is introduced as a police officer from California, and slightly embarrasses Gillespie and Wood with their false accusations. Tibbs is a very well-educated man who is patient with others and rarely talks back to those addressing him in a rude manner. Just after Gillespie had been awfully rude and had a little temper tantrum, Tibbs politely replies “Good morning, Chief Gillespie” (45), right before he walks out of Gillespie’s office. Then when he is talking to Gillespie once more, he kindly says “After you sir” (25), as Gillespie walks through the doorway in front of him. Even though there is very little respect shown towards Tibbs despite all his help, he still continues to act in a civilized and well-behaved manor towards his peers.
On the other hand, the character Bill Gillespie is quite different. He is an older, narrow-minded and racist chief of police from the city of Wells. Gillespie thinks that Tibbs is a nuisance and a distraction to the city. He has never met someone who is better then he is at his own job, especially a black man. “Nobody could tell him (Gillespie) that a coloured man could do anything he couldn’t do” (27). The problem is that not only is Tibbs more competent then Gillespie, but he is better educated. Also, his initial reaction to having Tibbs work on the case with their police force is very negative. He expresses these feelings quite often in the book. “Who in hell asked you to open your big black mouth” (45), Gillespie demanded. More over, racial comments and remarks such as this are found throughout the novel and are often expressed by the characters.
In addition, there are numerous differences that clearly distinguish the main characters from each other. For example Gillespie is known as the uneducated, big-headed and racist character, “At that precise moment Bill did not want to see the Negro detective-as a matter of fact he did not want to see him at anytime” (74). On the other hand, Tibbs is the educated, forgiving and decent one. However, both these characters are achievers and are concerned about high status. Although tension exists between the two of them, they still have some respect for one another, as shown in the following, “Thank you, sir,” Tibbs said, “Is there anything else you wanted to ask me?” (104). Another example is when Gillespie thought, “And while he did not like to admit it to himself, he knew that Tibbs had something on the ball.” (76)
In conclusion, the novel deals very effectively with the issue of prejudice. Moreover, the differences that exist between the two main characters are expressed very clearly and distinctively. Despite the fact that these two characters have ill feelings towards one another, they manage to gain respect for each other in the end.