Evaluation of Native Son by Richard Wright

May 6, 2019 by Essay Writer

Essay Prompt:Writers often highlight the values of a culture or society by using characters who are alienated from that culture or society because of gender, race, class or creed. Discuss Bigger Thomas as such a character and show how his alienation reveals the surrounding society’s assumptions and moral values.Essay:In Richard Wright’s breakthrough novel, Native Son, Wright introduces a figure familiar to 1930s America – the lone man backed into a corner by discrimination and misunderstanding. Frustrated by racism and the limited opportunities afforded black men in society, Bigger Thomas strikes out in a futile attempt to transgress the boundaries and limits of his position. Through the estrangement of Bigger Thomas, many of the values and morals of the culture in which he lived are brought to light.Immediately in this novel the revealing of these societal assumptions takes place.”Was what he had heard about rich white people really true? Was he going to work for people like you saw in the movies…?”This passage from Book One appears as Bigger sits in the movie theater, thinking about the possibilities for his new job as the Daltons’ chauffeur. He has just seen the newsreel about Mary and has decided that he might find more to like about the job than he initially suspects. Here we see just how little contact Bigger has had with white people and therefore how impossible it is for him to conceive of them in realistic terms. We also see the importance of popular culture in determining societal attitudes, as Bigger is only able to imagine the Daltons’ lives by drawing upon movies that portray rich white people. The movie screen shows a scene of black savages dancing in a jungle, which Bigger covers up in his mind with an imagined scene of an elegant white cocktail party. Wright juxtaposes these sharply contrasting images to indicate the extent to which Bigger’s and America’s attitudes about whites and blacks are determined by popular culture. This popular culture inundates the America of Wright’s time with imagery that depicts blacks as savages and whites as cultured and sophisticated millionaires.Furthermore, in the novel Wright shows the common misconceptions and discriminating thoughts of society towards the communist party.'”Listen, Bigger,” said Britten. “Did you see this guy [Jan] act in any way out of the ordinary? I mean, sort of nervous, say? Just what did he talk about?”He talked about Communists….””Did he ask you to join?””He gave me that stuff to read.””Come on. Tell us some of the things he said.”Bigger knew the things that white folks hated to hear Negroes ask for; and he knew that these were the things the Reds were always asking for.’In this passage from Book Two, in which Britten questions Bigger about Mary’s disappearance, we see Bigger’s astute ability to deflect suspicion away from himself by playing upon white prejudice against blacks and communists. Bigger assumes a slow-witted, subservient attitude and then uses this attitude to cast subtle suspicion upon the innocent Jan. Bigger utterly outsmarts the whites by telling them exactly what they want to hear, saying that, on the night of Mary’s disappearance, Jan was talking about these “things the Reds were always asking for.” Bigger knows that simply associating Jan with communist rhetoric will make Jan appear guilty in the minds of his white listeners, even though they already know Jan to be an avowed communist. Bigger uses his long experience with racial prejudice shrewdly, manipulating the prejudices of his white questioners. This passage suggests that, had Mary’s bones not been discovered in the furnace, Bigger may have gotten away with his crime completely. All thanks to the prejudices surrounding communism.Bigger Thomas is not a traditional hero by any means. However, Wright forces us to enter into Bigger’s mind and to understand the devastating effects of the social conditions in which he was raised. Bigger was not born a violent criminal. As illustrated in the novel, Bigger Thomas is a “native son”: a product of American culture and the violence and racism that suffuse it.

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