Richard Wright's Native Son


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Every person on earth has feelings and beliefs that must be expressed, and, of course, there is no one, perfect means of doing this that works for everyone. For some, literature provides a perfect medium to depict exactly what they wish to communicate. As an example, Richard Wright's novel, Native Son, specifically conveys his opinion of the struggle blacks had to face (personified by Bigger Thomas, the main character of the story) in the white man's world of the early 1900's. To create a novel such as this, there are many concepts that must be strung together. Specifically for Native Son, the concepts were: the true nature of fiction, what it means to be black in America, and the challenge of writing the novel.
The nature of fiction itself helped in the creation of this book. The first aspect is its paradoxical nature. Wright believes its paradoxical nature is due to the conjoining of two extremes: public and private (vii).
"The more the author thinks of why he wrote, the more he comes to regard his imaginations as a kind of self-generating cement which glued his facts together, and his emotions as a kind of dark and obscure designer of those facts." (vii)

Wright believes authors are eager to explain themselves but in process they are confronted with emotions (viii). This in itself is a paradox of fiction that causes the author do "dress up" his emotions to display his life, which is not possible (viii).
The next aspect of the nature of fiction is one the author cannot always control: the meanings expressed in the novel. Wright put many obvious ideas in his book, but some of the meanings he could not account for, not because he did not want to, but because he did not know of them (viii). Like stated earlier, Wright was faced with many emotions he did not know were in his life. The unaccounted meanings came to him as he expressed his feelings writing the novel.
The final aspect of the nature of fiction that influenced Wright was the use of white writers as his role models. He describes associating with them as "the life preserver of my hope to depict Negro like in fiction" which had seldom been done (xvi). Wright wanted to be able to compare his work to how white people stereotyped blacks so that in turn , white people would question their own beliefs and stereotypes.

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Wright had seen this in white writings, but wanted to make it his own and express through his imaginative fiction an intolerable sense of feeling and understanding of so much (xvii). These three aspects of the nature of fiction helped to lead to the production of this novel. Most, if not all, of how Wright wrote Native Son came from what it means to be black in America. This novel takes place in the northern city of Chicago, Illinois in the 1940's. During this era, the North and South were much different which influenced Wright in many ways. At this time, the South had separate but equal rights, legal segregation laws, and lynchings were not uncommon. The North was supposed to be a place of equality, but it was not much different than the South, still segregating blacks. One area of common ground between the North and South was the stereotype placed onto the blacks. They were labeled as criminals that were believed to have the ultimate goal of raping a white woman. Whites were constantly in a position of superiority over the blacks, and in Native Son, Bigger Thomas was the personification of this.
The character Bigger was created from the environment in the South. He fit the white people's stereotype of a criminal, murderer, and rapist. Bigger reacted extremely violently in his setting. "The urban environment of Chicago, affording a more stimulating life, made the Negro Bigger Thomases react more violently than ever in the South" (xv). This environment, stereotyping, and everyday strife embodied what it meant to be a black in America, and displayed the means in which Wright used in developing Native Son.
A complex character like Bigger was equally complex to create. There were two major events that led Wright to put Bigger on paper. The first was him getting a job in the South Side Boys Club where he worked with the "Bigger Thomases from the Black Belt" (xxvi). It was here that he learned that the rich folk were paying his wages just to keep "Biggers" off the street and away from their wealthy businesses; they did not care about the boys and their futures (xxvi). He realized he had made a mistake in this book because it made people feel bad for the black race, an emotion which he had not intended to be felt (xxvii). From there on, he vowed to make his works "hard and deep" and not sentimental. It was from here that Wright knew throughout the writing process he wanted to tell the truth as he saw and felt it (xxx).
One major question arose in the prewriting process. Who is Bigger Thomas? Wright had five complex ideas of Bigger Thomas. He decided to take different characteristics of each to create the Bigger Thomas that is known in Native Son (viii). Bigger's personal life was a complex mass of oppressed dreams, sensations, yearning visions, and emotions (xxi). Bigger was also dual in nature.
"He was an American, because he was a native son; but he was also a negro nationalist in a vague sense because he was not allowed to live as an American. Such was his way of life and mine; neither Bigger nor I resided fully in either camp." (xxiv)

Wright was hit with a tedious obstacle while writing the novel. He was afraid if he wrote about the criminal Bigger, whites would perceive it as something Wright did not want (xxi). He was very worried whites would say, "This man is preaching hate against the whole white race"(xxi). Nonetheless, Wright knew that it must be written to free himself from his sense of shame and fear (xxii).
Once he overcame his plight, the plot came easily for Wright. He had many years of experience in learning about Bigger: what he meant, what made him, and what he meant (xxvii). The plot was simple; what had made bigger and what he meant directed the plot (xxvii). The novel was relatively easy for Wright to write except for the final scene of the book. He did not want Bigger to die because there were two deaths all ready, so he decided to end it how it began: "Bigger living dangerously, taking his life into his hands, accepting what life had made him" (xxxiii). Max, the lawyer, was in Bigger's jail cell at the end of the story to display the moral: the horror of negro life in the United States. All the challenges of creating Native Son, from creating the character Bigger Thomas to actually writing the book, produced a novel that truly had an impact on the United States.
The concepts that drove the creation of Native Son were: the true nature of fiction, what it means to be black in America, and the challenge of writing the novel. Wright's expression of his personal feelings and beliefs directed the novel into a realistic story of the oppressive grasp the whites had on the blacks. His works have allowed him to express his emotions to millions of people across the Earth.

Works Cited

Native Son


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