Native Son by Richard Nathaniel Wright
Book Review / Social Issues

Native Son by Richard Nathaniel Wright

Native Son by Richard Nathaniel Wright
Native Son by Richard Nathaniel Wright

Book: Native Son

Author: Richard Nathaniel Wright

Publication: Vintage Classics
Pages: 480

Price: Click the link below

Synopsys of today’s Discussion:

  • Author Introduction

  • Introduction to the Text

  • Narrative Techniques

  • Major Characters

  • Critical Discussion

  • Blindness as a recurrent motif

  • Alvina’s Verdict

Author:

An American novelist, short story writer, and poet Richard Nathaniel Wright’s novels are mostly related to racial themes. Apart from  Native Son his other novels are Uncle Tom’s Children, Black Boy, The Outsider etc.  Native Son is “one of the great books in the literature of oppression.”

Introduction to the Text:

“The birth of Bigger Thomas goes back to my childhood, and there was not just one Bigger, but many of them, more than I could count and more than you suspect.” (The author wrote in the introduction of this novel).

Richard Wright’s Native Son portrays the life of a black man, Bigger Thomas who denied accepting the low living, forced on them. He, unlike his mother, could not find solace by taking religion and whiskey as their only way of emancipation. In a life where there was no choice, he committed crimes one after another being baffled in the whirlpool of politics of equality. Only in his crime, he enjoyed his freedom, his right choice.

Narrative technique:

The story is narrated in limited third person and written from the perspective of Bigger Thomas.  Native Son portrays how institutionalized racism pushed a person towards the brick of despair. Bigger Thomas’s crime is the effect of systematic suppression and deprivation entrusted to the black society. And the flow of narration minutely upholds the crescendo of tensions that led Bigger Thomas to his doom in this biased society.

Major Characters:

Bigger Thomas: 

He is the protagonist of this novel, a 20 years old guy who lives with his family in South Chicago. He had no money and he made money by robbing and stealing with some of his friends. His whole life was navigated by constant suspicion and fear. He committed serious crimes and was sentenced to death.

Bessie Mears:

She is Bigger’s girlfriend. She came to know about Bigger’s crimes. Bigger rapes her and kills her to refrain her from the police.

Mrs. Thomas:

She is Bigger’s mother, who struggles hard for her livelihood. She is a staunch religious woman and her belief in the afterlife is the only solace.

Vera Thomas:

She is Bigger’s sister who does not like Bigger’s rough behaviour.

Buddy:

Bigger’s brother. He has a secret admiration for Bigger that Bigger enjoys.

Mary Dalton:

 She was the daughter of a wealthy businessman, Henry Dalton. She with her progressive attitude confused Bigger to such an extent that it gradually led to her death.

Henry Dalton:

A hypocrite and businessman Henry Dalton never used his power to improve the condition of black society.  instead of that, he donated ping pong tables to showcase his wealth. Under the mask of a benevolent philanthropist, he was a sucker of black blood.

Mrs Dalton:

An obsessed lady with blind hatred for the black men that she kept hidden under her disguise of a philanthropic slogan.

Jan Erlone:

He is  Mary’s boyfriend and the leader of the Communist Party. He was a voice for black people. Though Bigger Thomas murdered Mary, his girlfriend and tried to trap him in that accusation, he persuaded Max, the lawyer, to help Bigger Thomas.

Peggy:

She is the housemaid of the Britten family.

Mr. Britten:

He is a private detective whom Mr. Dalton engaged to investigate his daughter’s case.

  Mr. Boris Max:

He was the lawyer who spoke for Bigger Thomas.

Critical Discussion:

  • Denied Identity:

Even when the Negros offer their life for the country they are denied their identity and place. They are subdued, suppressed and treated as invisible. In the author’s words, Bigger Thomas is a symbolic figure of American life, “a figure who would hold within him the prophecy of our future.”

“Negroes are forced to live in America contain the embryonic emotional prefigurations of how a large part of the body politic would react under stress.”

  • Social Dichotomy:

In his introduction “How “Bigger” Was Born” the author dissects the social dichotomy with a deliberate amplification.

  • Fear and Insecurity:

Constant fear and insecurity haunt the ‘biggers’ of American Society. Continuous suppression, exploitation, and segregation pushed them to the verge of despair. They are denied their basic rights.

Wright uncovers the hypocrisies of white society where under the cloak of outward progressive attitudes vicious racist lives.

  • Judicial System:

Along with the social bigotry, the American judicial system is just a puppet show at the hand of whites- a justice system blinded by the interest of racial prejudice. The concept of equality is a fake slogan.

  • Role of Media:

Magazine and media took a major role in monitoring and shaping the culture of racism. They constantly put biased images of inequality in the minds and thoughts of citizens. Therefore not only did whites ill-treat them and take them as no human….but also Blacks got accustomed to that attitude as it was their only fate.

  • Religion and Communism:

While Bigger’s mother is the spokesperson of Religion,  Jan is the representative of Communism. But no one can rescue Bigger from his doom.

  • Bigger as a symbol:

Bigger represents the struggle …the struggle to break the chain of racial discrepancy and oppression. He is that frantic soul searching for emancipation even through his doom.

 

Blindness is a recurrent theme in The Native Son:

Mrs. Dalton’s blindness represents the blindness of the whole American society.  Bigger could presume that blindness, “Jan was blind, Mary had been blind, Mr. Dalton was blind, and Mrs. Dalton was blind; yes, blind in more ways than one.”Again while waiting for a car in the cold snow bitten street surrounded by many people Bigger perceived the blindness,“they were simply blind people, blind like his mother, his brother, his sister, Peggy, Britten, Jan, Mr. Dalton, and the sightless Mrs. Dalton…”

Alvina’s Verdict:

“No American Negro exists, who does not have his private Bigger Thomas living in his skull”- James Baldwin once wrote.

After reading this novel I feel how he captured the essence of the black American heart.

Through Bigger’s mind, we enter into the dark, sucking vacuity of the black world where continuous suppression makes them habituated with that. Even a bit of freedom or different behaviour made them puzzled. Bigger was not a born criminal. He was made criminal through the vicious cycle of American policies of racism, hatred and vengeance.

He is the ‘native son’ a product of American culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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munu.ruku2020@gmail.com
Hi, I'm Munmun here and welcome to my book review blog. I'm an English Teacher. But more than that I love to read books and write down my thoughts. I feel we can change the world by circulating the introspections of great columnists throughout the world. You are free to contact me at munu.ruku2020@gmail.com.

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