The Analysis of the Novel “Native Son”
In Native Son, the main issue for the main character, Bigger, is that he has killed Mary Dalton. However, just like many other elements throughout the novel, this issue is simply a surface level issue. The deeper problem is that Bigger wants to be free, but racial oppression prevents him from having it. Bigger is having to live a life that he has been forced into, and this causes him to become angry. He lives in a world saturated in racist propaganda, constantly being told that he is a jungle ape who will amount to absolutely nothing. He is a pessimistic character who does not have high hopes of overcoming these systematic injustices. He fears white people because they have the power to manipulate him and decide how he will live his life.
The narrator of the story even states that, “to Bigger and his kind, white people were not really people; they were a sort of great natural force, like a stormy sky looming overhead or a deep swirling river stretching suddenly at one’s feet in the dark,” (110). And while the conflict of the story is not white versus blacks, it is oppressors verses the repressed, and what the psychological implications of that are. For Bigger, this means killing a woman because he has no other choice, and actually feeling a moment of empowerment in that decision because it is the first decision made out of free will for the first time.On the surface, this is a novel about crime, and bringing a murderer to justice.
Abstractly, it is much more. This novel is about race and justice and what years of racist oppression does to a person. To understand this, the reader must decide for themselves whether or not Bigger is truly guilty. While he is the one who held a pillow to Mary’s face, causing her to suffocate and die, it is important for the reader to question why Bigger murdered her. Mary was not a targeted victim and the murder was not premeditated. So why does Bigger murder her? If he had been caught in Mary’s room while she was intoxicated, he would have been accused of rape, which is just as severe as murdering her.
Bigger even mentions this to Max, stating that it does not matter whether or not he raped her, everyone thinks that he did and that is all that matters. This does not excuse murder, but it does highlight the impossibly situation the Bigger fell into. However, killing Mary empowers him. After killing her, he says that he feels like, “a man rebor he wanted to test and taste each new thing now to see how it went; like a man risen up well from a long illness,” (107). For the first time in his life, Bigger is able to make a choice of his own. He did something that he doesn’t have to tell anyone about, and because of that, he feels like he has finally taken control of his own destiny.
This novel is divided into three different sections, titled “Fear,” “Flight,” and “Fate,” respectively. In the exposition, the author describes and incident concerning Bigger, his family, and a rat that got into the apartment. The events that take place in this scene are a direct foreshadowing of what happens to Bigger. At first, the rat is terrified that it has accidentally entered the apartment, and realizes that it is trapped. This is how Bigger feels constantly because he lives in a world where is always constrained and must do what other people tell him to do. This fear and shame that he feels eventually turns into rage, causing Bigger to see those against him as nothing but a force of evil.
Next, the rat attempts to escape. It scurries around, looking for a hiding place, but ultimately fails and begins to attack its chasers. After Bigger kills Mary, he must escape the damage he caused, and he does this in a very messy, unorganized way that eventually gets him caught, all while going about this in a violent manner. He even takes another innocent life as he tries to hide his tracks and avoid getting caught.
Finally, the rat is caught and killed, just like Bigger. Both are executed somewhat publicly, pleasing those who are disgusted by them. The difference, however, is that Bigger gains a great degree of wisdom as he nears his death. As he becomes physically restrained, he becomes more mentally and emotionally free. By talking to Jan and Max, he sees that white people are not all evil, and starts to see them as both individuals and equals. Bigger also comes to realize that his feelings were not his fault; the hate and rage that he felt was actually misrepresented fear and shame, and that he is not the only one who feels this way.
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