< >In the turn of the century, the time of Bigger Thomas, the roles of black men and women in America were heavily restricted compared to the white population. Black people were also still treated unequally and dealt with as ignorant fools. Richard Wright's novel, Native Son, embraces this knowledge and follows the reaction of one angry man as he manages the delights of his exploits and the consequences of his deeds. Challenging pressures and stereotypes, Bigger believes he understands the world and that he is completely in control, unperturbed by anything or anyone. Although he is blind to society in essence, Bigger is deeply influenced by his oppression, exemplified by his actions, escape, and eventual demise.

< >From the beginning, Bigger is a visibly shaken young man, extremely fearful of the society in which he is forced to inhabit. While a cowardly lion at heart, he often bares his teeth, shows his claws, and occasionally growls to save face, all in an effort to prove to his friends and peers that he is not, in fact, scared of his life. This is plainly illustrated when his friend Gus says, "You see, Bigger, you the cause of all the trouble we ever have. Ain't I got a right to make up my mind? Naw; that ain't your way. You start cussing. You say I'm scared. It's you who's scared!" (Wright 28). Bigger's immediate defense is, as Gus predicted, to shout and threaten until he has satisfied himself for the time being that he truly is not afraid of anything. Bigger is, however, intensely terrified of life because he wholeheartedly believes that he has no destiny. He begins to resent himself for this belief and thrusts the blame to everyone else in the world but himself, allowing himself to have faith in the idea of everything that happens to him is because of the fault and actions of others.

< >In his novel, Wright says white people are blind to the individuality of the blacks, writing, "to Bigger and his kind white people were not really people; they were a sort of great natural force, like a stormy sky looming overhead, or like a deep swirling river stretching suddenly at one's feet in the dark. As long as he and his black folks did not go beyond certain limits, there was no need to fear that white force. But whether they feared it or not, each and every day of their lives they lived with it; even when words did not sound its name, they acknowledged its reality. As long as they lived here in this prescribed corner of the city, they paid mute tribute to it" (Wright 114). To exemplify this notion, during Native Son, Bigger also often, and somewhat justifiably, complains about the suffering he endures because of the domineering white society. He feels enclosed and crowded in the Black Belt, "the African-American internment camp of 1950s Chicago" (Collier-Thomas, page 273). "Forced to pay higher in housing, transportation, and other areas, blacks often worked harder and longer hours that quickly broke their backs and spirits" (Collier-Thomas 33), as shown by Bigger's on-again off-again girlfriend Bessie. After a long day's work, Bessie's only initiative is to do "something to make her feel that she was making up for the staved life she life that she was leading" (Wright 139) and quickly drink herself into a deep stupor. Like many others in black society, Bessie works "long . . . hard, and hot hours seven days a week," with hardly a break. "Hours like these," says John Collier-Thomas, author of Chronology of the Civil Rights Movement, "were not uncommon, worked by people of all genders and ages, in deplorable conditions." Despite his use of her in her intoxications, Bigger resented Bessie for succumbing to white society and letting them feed off her hard work. Ultimately, because of his repugnance, Bigger resisted work with fervor, fighting to keep away from it at all costs.

< >Bigger's family is one of the variables that fully began to fuel his anger and eventual flight from society. His mother and siblings constantly harass and irk Bigger to enter the white world he loathes and take a job he sees as charity. The family, especially his mother and sister, attempt to depress him into finding job with sad or offensive words whenever they are able to pester the closest thing they have to a patriarch. "We wouldn't have to live in this garbage dump," his mother sighs, referring to their rat-infested apartment, "if you had any manhood in you" (Wright 9). To make him feel even worse, she sobs, "All I ever do is try to make a home for you children and you don't care" (Wright 10), and two minutes later the question is asked, "You going to take the job, ain't you, Bigger?" (Wright 11). The continuous nagging does nothing for the family; they unfortunately do not realize and perpetuate Bigger's anger toward them and the society they are trying to force him to surrender to in order to live. Wright notes, "he hates his family because he knew that they were suffering" (Wright 10). At this point in his fear, Bigger visibly feels pride is far above life and will always be so, no matter what anyone says or does otherwise. This sentiment is Bigger's only real self-respect and clutches it close to himself dearly, refusing to release it for fear of never having it return. He furthermore hates his family and society for forcing him to have to hold onto himself so tightly in order to actually feel like an individual. This loathing, fear, and eventual "blindness" of society begins to turn into a dull angry fire, slowly growing as his fury heightens and his patience with the way he lives diminishes.

< >Bigger murders Mary for more reasons than he ever actually admits to the courts. Besides being white and rich, a status he will never attain, Bigger despises Mary for treating him life an ignorant person, one of the masses of foolish, black people and having murdered one of the ashen birds of prey that menacingly circle his people, Bigger releases himself from the confines of white society. Bigger's murder of Mary and eluding of authorities encourages this exodus from real society. Bigger shelters himself in his own world, believing what he wants to believe and fuels his own desperate need to think that he is above the "blind" (107) earth in which he is forced to take shelter. Feeling that he can do anything, that the "ice was broken" (106), he feels that he is "arriving at something which [has] long eluded him" (106), as if his crime was "natural . . . that all of his life had been leading to something like this" (106). He even wonders what there is, or who there is, to stop him from further rebelling against those he senses are trying to keep him down. "Who on earth," Bigger notes with cunning elation, "would think that a black timid Negro boy would murder . . . a white girl?" (107). He is excited by this power of knowledge he has over the rest of society and sets his sights on obtaining more control.

< >Infatuated by precious freedoms he sees others possessing, Bigger concludes that he is entitled to the same freedoms - and if not more, for he is a black man and he has never experienced the same privileges white men have so often before his shadowed eyes. In fact, he believes he is in so much need of privileges that he is the sole recipient of that treasure, balking in pure terror at the idea of consolation and fair justice. Dwelling in his knowledgeable oblivion - justifying to himself that he is the only person allowed to obtain his overarching desires - he begins to crow at everyone around him, accusing of them of being blind to everything in the world. Bigger amusingly assumes that everyone strives to believe that he is blind and takes this in stride, laughing that "if he could see while others were blink, then he could get what he wanted and never be caught at it" (Wright 106). Surrounding himself around the idea that he can do what ever he wants, Bigger stretches his wings toward the sky in an effort to show those around him that he sees everything the way it is and will use this knowledge to manipulate the flight he is taking toward achieving all of his goals.

< >Throughout the book of "Flight," Bigger often reiterates he is the soul person in the world who understands the way society truly works. After murdering Mary, Bigger's anger first frustrates him with himself, making him feel "worthless, resentful, furious, vengeful, and unloved" (Neskahi 1). Soon, however, a relief washes over him, because he has finally obtained the achievement of having used his strength to overcome the white man's power in a small way. He floats on the air, knowing and breathing his own supremacy. He even refuses to regard people of his own race, because "they were simply blind people, blind like his mother, his brother, his sister, Peggy, Britten, Jan, Mr. Dalton, and the sightless Mrs. Dalton and the quiet empty houses with their black gaping windows." He feels above the mainstream world and is alone in his position. Bigger's confidence level and the ability to think more vividly have heightened because of his hiatus from the normal world. He is more able to hate and defy racist white people like Mr. Britten because of his flight. "Britten was his enemy," Wright says. "[Bigger] knew that the hard light in Britten's eyes held him guilty [of Mary's murder] because he was black. He hated Britten so hard and hot, that he would gladly have grabbed the iron shovel and split Britten's skull in two" (Wright 162). Although the escape Bigger makes at first causes him to shut the importance of society out of his mind completely, it nonetheless is an asset in assisting Bigger to finally realize that he is not alone in his feelings of anger and sadness, on any side of the racial line. Yet while he is able to recognize all this, he is still in somewhat of a vain but determined search for himself and the worth he has in the world.

< >Given that Bigger has never had a sense of fate or destiny in his life, there is always a feeling of despondency stalking Bigger in the shadows. No matter how far he flew away from his problems in "Flight" or shied away from them in "Fate," his outcome and meaning in life always lurk in his mind. He thinks white society is to blame for not having a destiny. The white people in society have worked all their lives to keep others down and Bigger wholly abhors the whole idea. For his entire life he has worked for the white people, in one way or another. The mere inhabitance Bigger has of the Black Belt, he knows, has helped the white population not to look him and other black people in the eye. They do not wish to see the mistakes they have made in their lives, nor do they wish to concede that they have made them in the first place. "White people," Collier-Thomas growls with venom, "did not and refused to understand black people, no matter if they were Conservatives or Communists." Perceptive as he is of this, Bigger still cannot manage his life and find his self worth.

< >To effectively discover and define himself as an individual creature, Bigger must take his newfound understanding of the world and apply it to himself. For his entire life, "he had lurked behind his curtain of indifference," looking around, "snapping and glaring at whatever had tried to make him come out into the open" (Wright 28). In the book "Fate" of Native Son, Bigger experiences pressure from all sides to act one way or another - all behaviors he knows do not draw near to who he truly is as a human being. As his trial progresses and he begins to reflect on all that he is done, Bigger encounters regret, remorse, and eventually retribution through the workings of society. He realizes that he was never entirely away from society, nor had society ever been totally nonexistent in him. He acknowledges the affect society has always had on him and that while he felt initially justified for his actions, the judgment the world makes on him is justified, for he did murder two innocent women and ran away from his problems, when he should have faced them calmly and dealt with them as they came. Despite the consequences Bigger knows he will later face for these actions against society, he is able to endure them with the confidence and gratification that no matter the situation, he finally discovered his life's meaning and his fate.

< >While Bigger allows his anger of life, family, and society to perpetuate his fears and inevitably murder two women, his flight from society permits Bigger to separate himself from his former existence. In this escape, he is able to distinguish himself as a human being with real feelings and a position in life. Despite the consequences of this voyage to self-discovery, Bigger's actions and emotions throughout the novel demonstrate an impressive progression from fright to escape to confusion to eventual rectitude. He comes to an understanding of his crime and of his importance in life to his family, no matter what the whole of society believes. By grasping this idea, Bigger's life can end in the satisfaction that he does have a foreseeable destiny and that his death is justified. His individuality and his fate have been what Bigger and people in his position have been groping for their entire lives and knowing this, Bigger can in essence rest in peace, for his life is no longer incomplete or insignificant.


Works Cited

Collier-Thomas, John; et al. Chronology of the Civil Rights Movement. Chicago, IL: Henry Holt & Company, Inc., January 2000.

Neskahi, Arlie. "Anger Cycle Model." February 2002, 1998. http://www.rainbowwalker.com/anger/cycle.html

Wright, Richard. Native Son. 1940. New York, NY: First Perennial Classics, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.





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