Richard Wright's Native Son

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Native Son

In Native Son, by Richard Wright, the main character
is 20 year old Bigger Thomas. Growing up poor, uneducated,
and angry at the whole world, it is almost obvious that
Bigger is going to have a rough life. Anger, frustration,
and violence are habits for him. He is an experienced
criminal, and unable to handle with his wild mood swings,
Bigger often explodes in fits of crazy, aggressive outrage.
Bigger has grown up with the opinion that he simply has no
control over his life. In his mind, he can’t ever be
anything more than an unskilled, low-wage laborer. He is
forced to take a job as a chauffeur for the Daltons to avoid
having to watch his own family starve.

Strangely, Mr. Dalton is Bigger's landlord; he owns
most of the company that manages the apartment building
where Bigger's family lives. Mr. Dalton and other wealthy
real estate men are robbing the poor, black tenants on the
South Side. What they do is refuse to rent apartments in
other neighborhoods to black tenants. By doing this, they
create an fake housing shortage on the South Side, and that
causes high rents. Mr. Dalton likes to think of himself as a
generous man just because he gives money to black schools
and offers jobs to "poor, timid black boys" like Bigger.
However, his generosity is only a way for him to get rid of
the guilty conscience he has for cheating the poor black
residents of Chicago.

Mary Dalton, the daughter of Bigger's Mr. Dalton,
angers Bigger when she ignores the "rules" of society when
it comes to relationships between white women and black men.
On his first day on the job, Bigger drives Mary out to meet
her boyfriend, Jan. One thing leads to another, and all
three of them get drunk. Mary is too drunk to make it to her
bedroom on her own, so Bigger helps her up the stairs. Just
as he places Mary on her bed, Mary's blind mother, Mrs.
Dalton, enters the bedroom. Bigger is scared that Mary will
give away that he is in the room, so he covers her face with
a pillow and accidentally smothers her to death. Unaware
that Mary is dead, Mrs. Dalton prays and then leaves the
room. Bigger tries to cover his crime by burning Mary's body
in the Daltons' furnace.

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Then attempts to frame Jan for
Mary's disappearance.

A comment by Bigger's girlfriend, Bessie, gives him the
idea to try to collect ransom money from the Daltons. He
writes a ransom letter and signs it "Red," then talks Bessie
into taking part in the whole plan. But, when Mary's bones
are found in the furnace, Bigger and Bessie run away to an
empty building. Bigger is scared that he is going to get
caught because of Bessie, so he rapes her and then he beats
her to death with a brick. Everyone is after Bigger to try
to catch him and bring him to jail. He escapes the huge
manhunt as long as he can, but he is eventually captured
after a huge shoot-out. The press and the public decide his
guilt and his punishment before his trial even begins. All
the people just assume that Bigger raped Mary before killing
her and burned her body to hide the evidence. The white
authorities and mob use Bigger as an excuse to terrorize the
entire South Side neighborhood.

Jan is heartbroken over Mary's death, but he finally
understands that he is partly guilty too. He realizes that
he was wrong to expect Bigger to act differently to him than
to any other white man. Jan also realizes that he violated
all of the "rules" that apply to race relations. And the
fact that he did that, angered and shamed Bigger. Jan gets
his friend, Boris A. Max, to defend Bigger for free. He
tries to save Bigger from the death penalty by arguing that
what Bigger did was an affect of the environment he was in.
Max warns the public that there will be more men like Bigger
if America does not put an end to the huge cycle of hate and
punishment. But, even after the trial, Bigger is sentenced
to death.

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