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It is apparently a rather far fetched story of a black teenager. However, as is pointed out in the introduction by the author, the aim of the book is more to reflect the situation of the black community in the inter-war years. The last section, "Fate" is particularly powerful and very political, though a little long winded at times. In summary, I came to this book after reading "Black Boy" by the same author and I would recommend it if you like strong social comments in your novels.
The book succeeds in the first 3/4 when it is a focused character study of a young man shaped by the struggles and cruelty of his surroundings - historically segregated America. The motivations of Bigger are always understandable, even as he makes choices the reader probably wouldn't. There are likely important insights to be gained about race relations for many readers, although people familiar with those issues might find it a bit basic.
Book drags a bit in the last segments, and there is a tendency towards self-indulgent writing.
If you like character-focused novels, you will like this, just try to keep your momentum up coming into the final quarter.
This is the poignant, tragic story of Bigger Thomas. The writing is direct and harsh, but excellent. IT's like watching someone walking along the street that's about to fall into a hole that he doesn't see but you do. So frustrating!
Historically, this work was written before the Civil Rights era (1940) and shed light on the terrible social circumstances that pervaded African-American life in the North. Set in Chicago shortly after the Great Migration, it portrays what we now would characterize as systemic racism – the realities of a dysfunctional society. A black everyman has his life cast away by a lack of opportunity to make his life count for something. It can remind today’s readers of the progress that has been made and the progress which still must be made.
In this tale, Bigger Thomas at first seems headed to jail for only petty theft; then soon, he is in trouble for murder. Ironically, committing murder for Thomas was the most enlivening act of his life, for it was an act in which he took full responsibility of making a decision. With only an eighth-grade education and the wrong color of skin, Thomas did not have much opportunity, and the opportunities presented him were still less than that presented to most white folk.
In the author’s telling, Thomas’ actions seemed reasonable but simultaneously immoral. That quandary and contradiction creates tension and sympathy in the reader. In the final chapter, I read the case for and against the protagonist, and I could not help but agree with both accounts. It thus vividly portrayed what happens to oppressed people in seemingly intractable situations. The main remedy or next step, it seems, was awareness.
The original text, now preserved in my edition of the book, was too vivid for original readers in the 1940s, so Wright revised it so that it would reach a wide audience of a specific book club. The publisher thought that it would turn off pre-World-War-II American housewives who populated the book club. Fortunately, the book sold well and was eventually deemed a classic. Also fortunately, the original text was later re-discovered and disseminated to the reading public.
In an era when America’s systemic racism is regularly discussed in the news, this text provides an interesting and relevant historical nugget. It’s one of the first vivid portrayals of post-slavery African-American life. It reminds us that undoing America’s “original sin” of slavery requires more than just Constitutional amendments. Though this work might prove too seedy for grade-school students, it should not be neglected by the curious reader. Its seediness is not sensationalism but instead meaningful. We are not so far off Wright’s 1940-era Chicago that these type of situations do not remain. Rather, the setting’s similarity to the present day needs to be contemplated still. Few better resources for this task exist in America’s literary past than Native Son.
Native Son is truly an eye-opener to the extreme effects of racism in the early 1900’s. Although slavery ended long before this book was written, racism did not. Even nowadays, many people believe that along with slavery, discrimination and prejudice ended along with it. Richard Wright’s novel uncovers the truth behind the life of a black person in 1930 Chicago. All throughout the novel, the word “blind” is used several times. Mrs. Dalton is literally blind, but almost everyone is figuratively blind. They are so caught up in their own daily struggles that they are blind to the rest of the world around them. When Bigger is eating breakfast with his family the day after he kills Mary, he ponders on the thought that “…a lot of people were like Mrs. Dalton, blind…” (Wright 107). He first notices the blindness in his little brother, Buddy, but quickly sees it in his mother and sister as well. None of these people are actually blind, but blind to the world around them. They all lived in a cycle, and nothing but the cycle mattered to them. This blindness comes into play again when Mary says that she wants to know how black people live. She thinks that black people “…must live like we live. They’re human.” (Wright 70). Mary is so blind to the fact that black people live in a hellhole while she lives in a mansion. She cannot put herself in the shoes of black people since she has never even seen it. Native Son also emphasizes the idea that generalization of a race leads to terrible consequences. The white race in the book generalized black people as being apes and non-human creatures. The black race on the other hand thought of the white people as being arrogant, filthy rich, and prejudiced jerks. Neither of these was correct at all. A white man that contradicts this prejudice is Boris Max, and a black man that contradicts his prejudice is Bigger. Bigger is not a terrifying ape; he is a man that killed on accident and experienced hardships because of disgusting white people. Generalizations are rarely correct, and Richard Wright proves that in his book. This novel truly gives an insider’s view on what racism actually is. Racism is not only about lynchings and violent murders. It is about prejudice and how it destroys a society. Native Son could not be a more perfect example of racism and its effects.