Richard Wright’s novel Native Son follows the life of Bigger Thomas, a twenty year old Black man living on the South Side of Chicago in the 1930’s. Bigger’s life is surrounded by poverty and racism; which he navigates throughout the story. Racial tension at this time are running high and Bigger sees white people not as humans but as an oppressive force on his life. His friends and him often rob Black-owned businesses, and consider robbing a white man near the beginning of the story. Bigger secures a position as a chauffeur for the Dalton’s, a wealthy white family. His first assignment is to driving the rebellious Dalton daughter, Mary, to the university. However, she directs Bigger to a bar where she meets up with her communist boyfriend Jan. The three spend the evening getting drunk and Bigger must help Mary into her bedroom later that night. As Bigger puts Mary in her bed, he becomes aroused and kissed Mary. Mrs. Dalton enters the room, but she is blind and is not aware of Bigger’s presence. To keep Mary quiet, Bigger puts a pillow over her mouth, accidentally killing her. To conceal his crime, he burns Mary’s dead body in a furnace. Bigger tells the Dalton family that he last saw her with Jan, and then convinces his own girlfriend, Bessie, to help him create a ransom note to cover up Mary’s disappearance. Bigger later kills Bessie, after raping her, for holding too much knowledge about his crime. Mary’s bones are later found in the furnace, and Bigger is the main suspect. Jan offers the services of his friend Max to represent Bigger for no charge. At the trial, Max argues that Bigger never had a chance in life because society boxes in Blacks and gives them no opportunities for success. He claims this is why Bigger has made poor choices which led to unfortunate events. Despite the efforts, Bigger is sentenced to death by electric chair.
Main Characters: Bigger Thomas- the protagonist of the story, Bigger feels his race has trapped him in a life he is unable to escape. Mary Dalton- the daughter of Bigger’s boss whom he accidentally kills. Jan- Mary’s communist boyfriend who attempts to help Bigger after the murder. Bessie- Bigger’s girlfriend who he forces to help him conceal his crime, and later murders. Max- Jan’s friend who represents Bigger in court.
Symbolism: The Snow- When Bigger falls into the snow while escaping the crime scene, the snow represents the “whiteness” that Bigger feels is surrounding and trapping him in his life. Blindness- Mrs. Dalton’s blindness represents Bigger’s feeling that society does not “see” him due to his race. About the Author: Richard Wright was born in Mississippi in 1908 and had one brother. Early in his life, his father left the family causing Wright’s mother to become ill. Wright and his brother spent years moving around to different family members and lived in an orphanage for a short while. Although Wright was a gifted student, the family’s financial trouble forced him to drop out of school and support the family. After joining the Communist Party, Wright made money by writing political pieces. Native Son was published in 1940 and served as an eye opening portrayal of racism in America.
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