The novel “In the Heat of the Night” introduces the reader to two characters, Virgil Tibbs and Bill Gillespie.Virgil Tibbs is a homicide detective at the Pasadena Police department, and Bill Gillespie is the Chief of Police for Wells County.A feat he had to succeed at if his films were to gain the trust of a predominantly white audience and push for racial equality. When we first see Poitier as Virgil Tibbs, he is stepping off the train in the small Mississippi town of Sparta.
The novel also depicts how because of those racial tensions the way these two characters interact with each other and how that is evident.
In the beginning of the novel we are introduced to Virgil Tibbs.
And it is the complexity of Gillespie that got Steiger the Best Actor Oscar over Poitier in 1968.
This man has heart, but not made of gold, and his motivations are far from pure.
An important fact for the audience to dwell on later when Rod Steiger as sheriff Gillespie, standing over a dead body on Main Street, and calls for his deputy to round up any strangers for questioning.
From that moment on, director Norman Jewison establishes the racial tension that will only grow more and more intense as the film goes on.When Gillespie arrives to save the day, he simply gives them a warning and tells them to go home.It is only when they insult him personally that he becomes angry and takes a swing. In the end, after the murder is solved and racial injustice is swept back under the rug, Tibbs and Gillespie say their farewells and continue on with their very different lives. But for this socially aware thriller born of the turbulent sixties, it had to be, most definitely, a conscious choice.For Poitier, this film, along with "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?When the Chief gets up and walks out of the room the bottle is not on the table. Just look at the opening credits to "In the Heat of the Night" and you will see that not only does he get an above the title starring credit with method maniac Rod Steiger, but his name also appears first.Something that could have easily been switched around and overlooked considering the importance of each character.An example of this would be when Gillespie is angry or disturbed by Tibbs actions, he acts very calm and does not ever get angry.Despite all the hatred and anger people have for him he still continues to act in a civilized and well-behaved manor towards his co-workers and the people around him On the other hand, Bill Gillespie is a totally different character.He is shown as a wealthy, highly educated, and confident young African American.Virgil Tibbs is introduced to us as a prime suspect for the murder of Enrico Mantoli.