For what has actually happened, at the end of The Defiant Ones, is that a white male and a white woman have come together, but are menaced by the presence of the black man. The white woman, therefore, eliminates the black man, so that she and the white man can be alone together. But the white man cannot endure this rupture – from what one must, here, perhaps call his other, better, worse, or deeper self– and so rejects the white woman, crashing through the swamps, and braving death, in order to regain his black buddy, And his black buddy is waiting for him, and, eventually, takes him in his arms. The white boy has given up his woman. The black man has given up his hope for freedom: and what are we supposed to make of such rigorous choices, so rigorously arrived at?
The choices do not involve, for example, that seismographic shudder which the word, homosexual, until today, produces in the American mind, or soul: I doubt that Americans will ever be able to face the fact that the word, homosexual, is not a noun. The root of this word, as Americans use it –or, as this word uses Americans– simply involves a terror of any human touch, since any human touch can change you. A black man and a white man can come together only in the absence of women: which is, simply, the American legend of masculinity brought to its highest pressure, and revealed, as it were, in black and white.