Essay PreviewMore ↓
Personal identity is vital to living a worthwhile life. A person who goes through life without knowing what he or she stands for and believes in is living an incomplete life. Those who lack an understanding of their identity will unintentionally accept outsiders’ opinions and stereotypes of them. This harmful position can be seen in many characters from the African-American Literature class. Bigger Thomas, from Richard Wright’s, Native Son, is one lost character. Another character who lacks understanding is Alice Walker’s Celie, from The Color Purple. Both of these characters have a different awareness level of the position that they stand in, and that level changes throughout their respective stories as they attempt to determine what is of importance to them.
Bigger Thomas is one character, yet he represents the condition of numerous people. Richard Wright manifested his character from various people that he encountered and rolled all of those interactions and emotions into one character. One reason that the name “Bigger” is very appropriate for this character is that the name prevents the readers from limiting the character to one person. The name represents more of a complex than a person. This complex includes all young colored men who do not see how they fit into the big picture of society.
Bigger does not know what his identity is. He did not receive an abundance of love and support as a child to give him the crucial confidence needed for him to fight for a position in life. Instead, he followed into the stereotypical roles for a poor black man on the streets of Chicago. Bigger often was in trouble with the law. He stole from stores and carried weapons on him. He got into fights with the guys who he hung out with. He did not have a job even though his family had very little to survive economically. These are all traits of the “bad Negro,” which is another reasoning for the name “Bigger.”
If Bigger had more confidence in what he could accomplish with his abilities, he would challenge the rules that keep him out of the flight school.
How to Cite this Page
"Identity in Richard Wright’s Native Son and Alice Walker's The Color Purple." 123HelpMe.com. 04 Apr 2020
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- The Importance of the Cat in Native Son Throughout the history of writing, cats have symbolized craftiness, misfortune, deceit and death. Richard Wright creates no exception to this reputation in his novel Native Son. Bigger Thomas, a young, depressed black man, is placed in an awkward position when he is interviewed for a job with the Daltons, a wealthy white family. The Dalton's unnamed white cat, gazes at Bigger, symbolizing initially white society. This gazing causes Bigger to feel angry and awkward so that is comes to assume a far more critical symbolic level on the night of Mary Dalton's murder.... [tags: Native Son Essays]
1357 words (3.9 pages)
- Bigger as a Black Everyman in Native Son The life of Bigger Thomas in Richard Wright's Native Son is not one with which most of us can relate. It is marked by excessive violence, oppression, and a lack of hope for the future. Despite this difference from my own life and the lives of my privileged classmates, I would argue that Bigger's experience is somewhat universal, His is not a unique, individual experience, but rather one that is representative of the world of a young black man. If Bigger were alive today, perhaps he would be a “Gangsta Rapper” and express his rage through music instead of violence.... [tags: Native Son Essays]
721 words (2.1 pages)
- Racism, separate but equal segregation are the terms used to describe the 1940s, a period when the book was published. People from the African American community lived in poor conditions characterized by poverty. Most of them worked as slaves for the whites to earn a living. The blacks loathed the whites because they treated them as second class citizens. Opportunities were not equally distributed with the two races being segregated with the best being reserved for the whites. All the blacks wanted was equality something they did not receive as the government passed laws that deemed segregation constitutional.... [tags: Black people, Race, White people]
1115 words (3.2 pages)
- People’s negative actions at times are products of baneful expectations. Native Son, is a novel written by Richard Wright. This novel focuses on Bigger Thomas’s struggle when living life in Chicago in the 1930s, with the burden of a racist society. Thomas’s sins are evoked by society’s negative influence due to society’s idea of equality. Thomas’s sins are evoked by society because society besieges Thomas’s conscious. Bigger Thomas is the oldest offspring in a poor African American family, he is constantly depended on financially but hardly commits.... [tags: bullied by a racist society]
815 words (2.3 pages)
- In Native Son by Richard Wright, Bigger is subject to inequality because of his skin color. “Maybe they were right when they said that a black skin was bad, the covering of an apelike animal. Maybe he was just unlucky, a man born for dark doom, an obscene joke happening amid a colossal din of siren screams and white faces and circling lances of light under a cold and silken sky” (Wright 275). This white oppression creates a monster inside of him, causing him to murder a young woman. Yet Bigger Thomas is just another one of the hapless African Americans, whose oppressive environment molds him into a fearful, vengeful beast.... [tags: Black people, White people, Race, African American]
1101 words (3.1 pages)
- Obstacles are opportunities in disguise. If a person is starving with only one sunflower seed, he/she has a choice to either plant the sun flower seed or to eat it. His obstacle is only having one sunflower, but his opportunity is to plant it. Women and men from urban areas are faced with these decisions everyday of choosing starvation v. assurance, mind v. matter, now v. forever. They are hit with harsh reality in some of the most severe ways, that the bad options can outweigh the good. Alternatively, there those who are hit, though they fight back.... [tags: Urban area, City, Developed environments, Village]
704 words (2 pages)
- Before discussing Jan Erlone and Boris Max, the communists in the novel, it should be known that Richard Wright was a member of the Communist Party when he wrote Native Son. Wright used these two characters in the novel along to support the movement and make it look more positive. This, along with other things to be included later, was very controversial and generated much criticism for the novel. The communist characters turn out to be the most supportive and helpful towards Bigger. Jan Erlone is Mary Dalton’s boyfriend and is quite similar to her at the beginning of the novel.... [tags: African American, Racism, White people, Colored]
2111 words (6 pages)
- The Great Migration began in the early 1900s and ended in the late 1960s. African Americans believed they were being unjustly paid and discriminated against, which is presented throughout Richard Wright’s book, Native Son. Therefore, without hesitation they decided it was time to put the South in the past. They were determined to seek a higher quality of life throughout the North, Midwest, and West regions of the United States. The majority of African Americans to leave the South were bound for big city destinations, such as Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and New York.... [tags: African American, Black people, Race, Racism]
1401 words (4 pages)
- In the 1940's white people were clearly the majority and superior race. Whites looked down on all other races, especially blacks. This superiority had been going on for hundreds of years and was never challenged until the 1950's and 1960's. During this time period there were many civil rights movements led by Communists and other groups who believed in racial equality. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the most famous spokesman and adamant believer in racial equality. The helm of all white supremacist groups was in Chicago.... [tags: Wright Native Sun Analysis Literature]
918 words (2.6 pages)
- Native Son is a critically acclaimed, best-selling novel by Richard Wright (1908-1960) that tells the story of Bigger Thomas, an impoverished and uneducated black man. Bigger’s life in South Chicago (a predominantly African-American area) is miserable and he remains bitter and angry over his social condition – one that involves the constant burden of being black in a white man’s world. He is convinced that he has no control over his life and that he will never be anything more than a low-wage laborer due to his skin color.... [tags: RIchard Wright, Novel Analysis]
1257 words (3.6 pages)
- Music - Bono's Path Towards Spiritual Enlightenment
- The Impact of Globalization on Everyday Life
- The Underground Railroad and Iowa: On the Road from Slavery to Freedom
- Remedial College Classes Benefit Students and Society
- Bretton Woods vs. Protest – Which is More Effective in the Fight Against Global Injustice?
- Globalization and the State System of Government
Bigger sees himself in a different world than the white man. This is partially true, but the two worlds overlap and interact with each other. Bigger does not like to deal with the white man’s world. This is a major setback in his ability to create a personal identity for himself. If Bigger does not address the issue, he will never be able to communicate effectively with people outside of his race.
Another shortcoming of Bigger’s personal identity is his lack of morals. His home situation did not help him to form his own opinions on what is morally right and wrong. This is primarily seen in the scene that Mary Dalton is killed. Bigger did not mean to kill Mary, but he did not know how to react when her mother entered the room. If he had strong enough morals he would have talked with Mrs. Dalton and explained to her what happened without worrying about his race bringing him down. He was certain that she would think he was taking advantage of her daughter and there would be no questions asked. Yet, he is too scared and acts in the moment to keep Mary quiet, which eventually kills her. He unintentionally puts his pride in front of Mary’s whole life.
As soon as this accidental murder is committed, Bigger loses the little personal identity that he had. The only details that have meaning are: “She was dead and he had killed her. He was a murderer, a Negro murderer, a black murderer. He had killed a white woman.” (Wright 86) This is how Bigger knows that the crime will be viewed. He doesn’t think anyone will listen to his side of the story. They won’t want to know anything about him; they know all the prevalent information just by looking at him. This is shown by one of the early newspaper headlines, “HUNT BLACK IN GIRL’S DEATH.” (Wright 227)
Others in the colored society understand the position that Bigger is in. One character, Jim, says, “But, Jack, ever’ nigger looks guilty t’ white folks when somebody’s done a crime.” (Wright 235) Even if Bigger had been innocent, he could have easily been charged with Mary’s murder if someone else committed the crime.
Bigger never dealt with white people much before his chauffer job in the Dalton house. When looking for a reason for him to murder Mary, Max asks Bigger when he started hating Mary. Bigger responds, “I hated her as soon as she spoke to me, as soon as I saw her. I reckon I hated her before I saw her.” (Wright 326) Before even meeting Mary, Bigger had his opinion of her set; she was white so she was bad. He didn’t think there could be a good white person because he had only experienced the wrath of the white race. Damon Marcel DeCoste looks at how Bigger’s experiences with whites has been up to this time in his life:
“Yet if Bigger knows these facts of his own oppression, his response is an attempt to erase this reality, to deny its status as fact and to retreat to a position where its factuality cannot reach him. Rankling at his own circumscribed existence, Bigger withdraws from it, from the world that rebukes him, from those other blacks as sorry and powerless as he, finally from his own consciousness of the real itself. Indeed, because of what he knows of this reality, Bigger pursues a studied rejection of it.” (DeCoste)
Towards the end of the novel, Bigger begins questioning more things than he ever did during the rest of his life. He compares himself to the white race and realizes that he still wants to live. He wants to live, in part, to prove them wrong. He wants to see if his new way of thinking is correct. He understands that Max is truly trying to help him, as is Jan. It takes a death sentence in order to make Bigger want to live. He realizes that his life could have a purpose, which is something that never occurred to him because he had no personal identity.
Another character who does not know her position in society is Celie, from The Color Purple. She accepts what is given to her and does not learn to fight for herself until much later in her life. Of course, it is beneficial that she makes this understanding at some point, but her life could have been much more happy if she had learned what it could be as a young person.
From the start, Celie does not receive the right kind of love and guidance from her parents. She is not taught the ways of the world to understand the possibilities for happiness. She lets others create her being because she does not resist them. She follows what they tell her to do because she was never presented the idea of her being an individual capable of doing what she wanted.
Celie goes from one man’s house to another and very little changes. Her life knows no joy or happiness. Everything she does is out of duty to her husband. She has no self-worth and lives a quiet life following orders. Her husband abuses her in every sense of the word. He abuses her physically when she does something incorrect, or not to his liking; he abuses her sexually because Celie does not even understand that sex is meant to be something enjoyable; and her abuses her emotionally because he belittles every aspect of her.
Everything changes for Celie the day that Shugs enters her life. Shugs personality and actions confound Celie’s mind. Celie has never met a woman with as much vitality as Shugs has. Celie’s husband is grappling at every chance he can have to make Shugs happy. Shugs has total control over him and she knows it. She uses her confidence to make Mister shake with fear. He wants to make her happy and is willing to do anything that she desires. Celie had observed this behavior in Harpo, but she could not apply that to her own life because she saw him as young and unsure of what he was doing.
Shugs immediately observes Celie’s position in life. Celie is in awe of Shugs and Shugs respects this situation enough to help Celie. Shugs puts the idea into Celie’s mind that she does not have to do only as her husband says. Celie is a real person and deserves to live her own life and not let anyone else control it. Shugs helps Celie to form her own identity by doing simple things like having her smile without covering it with her hand. Eventually, Celie gains enough confidence that she is able to stand up for herself. She decides she is leaving and she does. Her husband is left hopeless without anyone to do his dirty work. Critics also agree that Shugs was important to Celie’s self-recognition.
“He (Ross) finds that once Celie can recognize and appreciate her body as complete and belonging to herself, she is able to express love verbally for herself and others. Her apparent desire for selfhood, he further argues, is initiated in a crucial mirror scene in which Shug Avery helps initiate Celie's desire for selfhood.” (Pifer)
Celie’s new identity allows her to find pleasure in life. She finds a job that she enjoys doing and can do independently. Her life takes on meaning because she a personal life in place of the old labor-intense life.
Anyone lacking a personal identity will be given an identity by outsiders. Everyone needs to know what makes them who they are and to be proud of that fact. They need to have beliefs so that they are better prepared to know how to react when an unfavorable position presents itself. Bigger realized that he had fell into the stereotypical role because he did not form any other identity for himself until it was too late. Celie was able to enjoy part of her life by reclaiming it through the help of a friend. Without personal identity, society will run a person over and sweep him away. In order to live a happy and meaningful life, it is vital to know what is of importance and to act on those beliefs to create a personal identity.
DeCoste, Damon Marcel. “To blot it all out: the politics of realism in Richard Wright's Native son.” Style. Vol 32 no 1. Spring 98. 127-147
Pifer, Lynn and Tricia Slusser. “Looking at the back of your head: mirroring scenes in Alice Walker's The color purple and Possessing the secret of joy.” Melus. Vol 23, no 4. Winter 98. 47-57
Wright, Richard. Native Son. New York: Harper Perennial, 1940.