Richard Wright's Native Son Essay

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Richard Wright's Native Son

Richard Wright's novel, Native Son, stirred up a real controversy by shocking the sensibilities of both black and white America. The protagonist, Bigger Thomas, is from the lowest ring of society, and Wright does not blend him with any of the romantic elements common to literary heroes. Bigger is what one expects him to be because of the social conditions in which he lives: he is sullen, frightened, violent, hateful, and resentful. He is the product of the condemnation the “white” society has brought upon him. He is a “native son.”

Native Son opens with an act of violence. The alarm clock abruptly awakens Bigger and his family to their miserable reality--a rat-infested, one bedroom apartment in the
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Racist white society, his mother, and even Bigger himself all believe that he is destined to meet a bad end. His relentless conviction of an impending awful fate demonstrates that Bigger feels a nearly complete lack of control over his life. He is permitted access only to menial jobs, substandard housing, substandard food. Basically, white society permits him no choice but a substandard life.

Gus and Bigger play-act at being "white." They alternately play at being a general, J.P. Morgan and President. Gus and Bigger act out a skit in which the President wants to keep the "niggers" under control. They associate whiteness with the power, wealth, and authority to deny them control over their own lives. Bigger hates and fears "whiteness." Therefore, he has a latent desire to do violence to the force that oppresses him. Backed into a corner, he is primed to lash out at the very force that restrains him through fear. Buckley's campaign poster states the message that Bigger believes is written all over his very existence: "You Can't Win. His poster foreshadows Bigger's inevitable, losing confrontation with white authority.

Bigger is alienated in the most profound sense. He is alienated from the middle-class comforts of white society, alienated from his family, his friends, and ultimately, himself by his overwhelming sense of impotent shame and frustration. He cannot bear to feel the full range of his rage and misery, so he resorts to self-deception.

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