Native Son: Characters

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Native Son: Characters

Richard Wright's novel, Native Son, consisted of various main and supporting character to
deliver an effective array of personalities and expression. Each character's actions
defines their individual personalities and belief systems. The main character of Native
Son, Bigger Thomas has personality traits spanning various aspect of human nature
including actions motivated by fear, quick temper, and a high degree of intelligence.
Bigger, whom the novel revolves around, portrays various personality elements through his

Many of his action suggest an overriding response to fear, which stems from his exposure
to a harsh social climate in which a clear line between acceptable behavior for white's
and black's exists. His swift anger and his destructive impulses stem from that fear and
becomes apparent in the opening scene when he fiercely attacks a huge rat. The same
murderous impulse appears when his secret dread of the delicatessen robbery impels him to
commit a vicious assault on his friend Gus. Bigger commits both of the brutal murders not
in rage or anger, but as a reaction to fear. His typical fear stems from being caught in
the act of doing something socially unacceptable and being the subject of punishment.
Although he later admits to Max that Mary Dalton's behavior toward him made him hate her,
it is not that hate which causes him to smother her to death, but a feeble attempt to
evade the detection of her mother. The fear of being caught with a white woman overwhelmed
his common sense and dictated his actions. When he attempted to murder Bessie, his
motivation came from intense fear of the consequences of "letting" her live. Bigger
realized that he could not take Bessie with him or leave her behind and concluded that
killing her could provide her only "merciful" end.

The emotional forces that drive Bigger are conveyed by means other than his words. Besides
reactions to fear, his actions demonstrate an extremely quick temper and destructive
impulse as an integral part of his nature. Rage plays a key part in his basic nature, but
does not directly motivate the murders he commits. Rage does not affect Bigger's
intelligence and quick thinking and it becomes evident during the interview with Briton.
The detective makes Bigger so angry that the interrogation becomes a game to Bigger, a
game of logic and wills, of playing the stupid negro, and telling the man exactly what he
wants to hear. The game Bigger plays during the interrogation shows his great intelligence
and ability to think quickly on his feet. Bigger also displayed his intelligence in the
creation of the ransom note. Using the situation to his advantage, Bigger wrote a ransom
note to extort Mary's parents for money. To make the note even more convincing and to
dissuade blame from himself, Bigger signs the note with the communist symbol of a hammer
and sickle.

Although the book revolves around Bigger he possesses few good qualities, which get his
horrendous actions negate, making him an anti-hero. He possess the violent tendencies to
commit rape, extortion of the dead girls parents, robbing, and killing innocent people.
These traits do not portray a simple victim of circumstance, but a habitual criminal
acting out against a society. While Bigger dominates the story, his appalling actions make
him a man that the reader can not look upon as a hero. In fact the author punishes the
anti-hero character by condemning him to death for his crimes.

One of the two most sympathetic characterizations of white persons in the novel comes from
the character of Jan Erlone, Mary Dalton's friend. He exhibits an enthusiastic personality
and represents an idealistic young organizer for the Communist party. Mary's parents and
their servant Peggy distrust his motives. Bigger initially expresses a distaste for "reds"
when responding to Jan's friendly advances during their first meeting. While receiving
distrust from those around him, Jan retains a simple belief in the equality for all men,
regardless of social class or race. Throughout Jan's first meeting with Bigger, he regards
Bigger with the utmost respect. During the course of the night, Jan sits in the front of
the car with Bigger, eats with him, drinks with him, and speaks to him as an equal. Those
actions of equality portray more than a decent man, it shows that Jan's character
possesses a strong sense of morality and honesty. Jan is also characterized by other
heroic traits, forgiveness and understanding. As an interesting twist of fate, Jan gets
Bigger an attorney, and demonstrates that he could forgive Bigger for implicating him for
Mary's "kidnapping".

The second sympathetic white character, Boris A. Max, portrays the Communist lawyer whom
Jan brings to help Bigger. Max's legal knowledge and his mastery of tactics are constantly
in evidence. By taking Bigger's case pro-bono, Max shows two aspects of his nature,
charity and a need to defend the oppressed. By accepting the task of Bigger's defense, he
makes it painfully clear that his true intent originates from a desire to protect the
image of the communist party. That passion does not adversely affect his skill and he
diligently works to protect his client from injustice. The moment Bigger accepts Max's
offer to represent him, Max protects his client's interests and insists upon his rights.
Max constantly demonstrates his intelligence, in his pursuit of justice and a fair trial
for his client Bigger Thomas.

The members of the Dalton family represent the naiveté of whites to the realities of
social oppression. Mr. and Mrs. Dalton attempt to correct their wrongs by donating to
various black charities. They create a boy's club, donating ping pong tables and various
other impractical items. In doing so, they do not make any personal sacrifices and
basically give only minimal personal involvement to the cause. They have not developed a
genuine understanding of the economic and social conditions of the black people. Mr. and
Mrs. Dalton are naive about their lack of impact on the social and economic situations of
the blacks that they attempt to help. The author does not make them callous or bigoted.
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