February 11, y
Native Son: by Richard Wright
“A boy who is the product of American culture.”
Native Son describes the black struggle for identity and self worth and the anger blacks have felt because of their rejection by the white American society. Bigger Thomas, the protagonist, searches for the power that will enable him to break free from the trap that society has set on him. He runs into many barriers as he tries to find meaning in his life. Violence and drugs are his main escapes from a life in which white society considers him less than human. Through Bigger author, Richard Wright, shares his belief that racism causes black people in America to see themselves as powerless to improve their lives, and it is through finding their worth as human beings that they can live with dignity. Wright develops this theme as he traces Bigger’s metamorphosis from being a stereotypical young black man who is on a path of self destruction to a man who understands his position in American society and accepts his fate with dignity.
As the story begins, Bigger feels powerless, beaten down, and worthless as a result of being black in a white society. Feeling trapped by the circumstances into which he has been born, he feels that he“gains” power by robbing different stores. His daily existence is filled with fear of white people, fear of life itself, and shame at the way his family lives. When he gets offered a job through a relief agency, he decides he would much rather go to jail for robbing than get a real job. Why try when so many doors are closed because of the perception of the white culture that blacks are inferior? He knows that Mr. Dalton, his employer, owns the apartment in which Bigger and his family live, and he knows that Dalton makes money off of his family’s misery. Knowing that, Bigger looks at this job as offering little hope for a better life.
Wright shows that because of the segregation that results from racism, there is a lack of understanding on part of both the blacks and the whites. Bigger’s first job is to drive Mr. Dalton’s daughter, Mary, to the university, but instead of going there, Mary tells Bigger to drive her to meet her communist boyfriend, Jan. “She responded to him as if he were human, as if he lived in the same world as she.” Mary’s inability to see beyond her own immediate desire to become friends with Bigger says that she may be too self focused to see outside of herself. She wants the recognition of being nice to a black person without realizing how this can destroy Bigger’s life. “The guarded feeling of freedom he had while listening to her was tangled with the hard fact that she was white and rich, a part of the world of people who told him what he could and could not do.” Bigger feels as if she is an escape into freedom, that she is a way out of those chains that the white American society has put on him. At the same time, Mary frightens and angers Bigger by ignoring the social separation that exists between the whites and blacks.
It is through Bigger’s confusion with his relationship with Mary that results to him killing Mary. When Bigger takes Mary home, she is too drunk to walk up to her room. Mary looks at Bigger and says, “Here; gimme a lift. I’m wobbly…” She is unaware that this is completely inappropriate and could get Bigger into serious trouble. He takes her to her room and just as he places Mary on her bed, Mrs. Dalton who is blind comes into her room, and her presence terrifies Bigger. Afraid of what Mary will say, he covers her face with a pillow and unintentionally suffocates her. After he kills her, “He felt that he had been in the grip of a weird spell and was now free.” Bigger feels that he now somehow has power because he has killed a white girl. After burning Mary’s cut up body in the Dalton’s furnace, he runs to his house on the south side thinking he has gotten away with murder. In his confusion Bigger feels power and control as…