Native Son, A Critical Review Essay

This essay has a total of 945 words and 4 pages.

Native Son, A Critical Review

Bigger, Crime, and Society

In the heated trial that determines whether Bigger Thomas will live or die, his supportive
defense attorney exclaims, "You cannot kill this man, your Honor, for we have made it
plain that we do not recognize that he lives!" Living in the Chicago slums as a poor,
uneducated young black man whose only confidence can come from acts of violence, Bigger
Thomas of Richard Wright's novel Native Son is destined to meet a poor fate. Anger and
hopelessness are a daily reality for him as he realizes that his life has no real meaning.
When he accidentally murders a young, rich, white woman, however, his actions begin to
have meaning as he accepts the crime as his own, even while he lies to the authorities.
Bigger is, of course, taken down by a society who takes offense at the remarks of his
supporters and seeks to justify itself. Bigger himself is doomed, but his emotions, his
actions, and his motivations all help to give the reader a window into the mind of a
criminal and a repressed inner city African American.

Fear, flight, fate. These are the three simple and meaningful words chosen by Wright to
mark Bigger's sad existence. Growing up angry at the white world, he is forced into
working as a chauffeur for a rich white family, the Daltons, to support his struggling
family. He is frightened and angered by the attempts of Mary Dalton and her Communist
friend Jan to be friendly to him and interprets their actions as condescending. As he
tries to stifle a drunken Mary to avoid detection after carrying her upstairs, he
accidentally kills her. In a time of panic, he burns the body in the furnace and concocts
an elaborate lie imputing the Communist Party. He lies, dodges questions, and even tries
to demand ransom, but this can only last for so long before Bigger is named as chief
suspect. He brings with him in flight his girlfriend Bessie and later kills her, as she
cannot continue with him nor return home. After being caught and brought to trial he is
supported by attorney Boris Max who defends him intensely with his own eloquence and
conviction. Bigger discovers that the man, though white, feels genuinely for him, but in
the end, as dictated by fate, he is sentenced to death and is granted no clemency by a
society refusing to take any responsibility for a member for whom it has failed to care.

Bigger is the only truly developed character of the novel, as the book is a chronicle of
his downfall. He grows up using motion pictures as a means for him to escape his narrow
existence. Meaning is only assigned to his life when he is responsible for Mary Dalton's
death. He feels a sense of power, of confidence and accomplishment, as he accepts the
crime and even when facing death, recognizes that he must have done something significant,
even as he cringes in fear and agony while committing his heinous deeds. Though he
initially blames the Communist Party for his actions, he doesn't do it out of any anger
toward Communism, but merely views the party as something on which he can pin his actions.
He never is fortunate enough to find warm, mutually beneficial relationships, but he comes
closest to having true friends with Jan Erlone and Boris Max, both of the white race
Bigger has grown to hate. By the end of the novel, he realizes his end is the product of
fate, a fate determined by the life to which he has been subjected by white America.
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