Naturalism and Determinism in Native Son
"Today Bigger Thomas and that mob are strangers, yet they hate. They hate because they fear, and they fear because they feel that the deepest feelings of their lives are being assaulted and outraged. And they do not know why; they are powerless pawns in a blind play of social forces." This passage epitomizes for Richard Wright, the most radical effects of criminal racial situation in America. However, perhaps the most important role of this passage is the way in which it embodies Wright's overall philosophy of Naturalism or Social Realism.
The naturalist perspective in the passage is evident through the use of the most crucial features of Naturalism. The passage also echoes the most crucial features of Determinism. namely fear, hate and mob mentality. In a critical analysis of this passage there are many single phrases to dissect. One such phrase is, "They hate...." The hatred that is felt by the white mob is a product of their guilt. It is the guilt like that of Mr. Dalton that is so strong that he tries to "undo it in a manner as naïve as dropping a penny in a blind man's cup." Wright further speaks of this guilt when Max states, "The Thomas family got poor and the Dalton family got rich. And Mr. Dalton, a decent man, tried to salve his feelings by giving money. But, my friend, gold was not enough! Corpses cannot be bribed! Say to yourself Mr. Dalton, 'I offered my daughter as a burnt sacrifice and it was not enough to push back into it's grave this thing that haunts me.'" This statement embodies the very core of social reality of the time, and in essence, Social Realism.
"They fear...." What fear is Wright speaking of? Wright speaks of the fear that both the blacks and the whites feel. Bigger's fear and hate is a direct result of the way he sees society. Bigger sees in a garish light the failure of his society. He sees it's cultural and political ideals and promises, and he refuses to accept the compromises that most individuals make for simple self-preservation (as was in Bessie's case.) The white's fear is different. They fear loosing the power and control that they have over the blacks. The whites believe that if they correct the socioeconomic state of the black they will, in essence, be compromising their seat of power. The constant socioeconomic struggle between the whites and blacks is an optimal example of the philosophical school of Marx (a Social Realist.) Marx believes that the constant struggle between capitalist and labor determines what happens to people. Wright is a subscriber to this school of thought.
The same passage discussed above also echoes one of the most crucial features of Naturalism. This feature is Determinism. Wright has many examples of determinism in Native Son. Determinism is the belief that one's destiny is in no way decided by God or by an individual's assertion of free will but by social or natural forces. When Wright uses the word powerless, he conveys to his readers the absolute impotence of the individuals of the society to change their social reality. Their social reality is very gruesome and very real.
Their social reality reflects the failures of modern civilization (the death of genuine spiritual values and tradition), the harshness of economic greed and exploitation. In this case the axe falls on the white race whose greed is the facilitator of their exploitation of the black race. This exploitation is further echoed in P.386, paragraph 5, when Max states, "Each of them - ... know their lives are built upon a historical deed of wrong against many people, people from whose lives they have bled their leisure and luxury!"
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