“Native Son”, analysis of the novel by Richard Wright

In 1940, Richard Wright wrote the novel Native Son. This novel tells us about Bigger Thomas, a 20-year old uneducated, poor black man. One morning, he wakes up from his apartment of the Southern part of the city. He uses a skillet to kill a rat scampering across his room. Having grown up in an environment with harsh racial prejudice, Thomas is disturbed with a high conviction that he lacks control over his life and aspires nothing apart from low-wage labor. His mother pleads with him to accept a job offer from Mr
Dalton. However, Thomas instead decides to meet with his friends to plan the robbery of Mr Dalton’s shop.

Frustration, fear, and anger define Thomas’ daily existence since he is coerced to hide behind the risk of dying due to despair. While Thomas and his friends have robbed several businesses owned by blacks, they had never tried robbing a white man. Bigger is filled with fear of confronting this coerce that ends up overwhelming him. Instead of him admitting his dismay, he attacks one of his gang members to sabotage the robbery. Being left with no other option, Thomas decides to become Dalton’s chauffeur. Coincidentally, Mr Dalton is the landlord of the apartment where Thomas’ family stays. Mr Dalton, as well as other apartment owners, rob the poor tenants in Chicago. They even deny blacks to rent an apartment within white neighborhoods leading to high rents and overpopulation in Chicago’s South Side.

Dalton’s daughter, Mary, angers and frightens Thomas by ignoring the social customs that rules the connection between black men and white women. On Bigger’s first day at work, he drives Mary to meet Jan, her communist boyfriend. Jan and Mary put pressure on Bigger to take them to a restaurant on the South Side to prove racial tolerance. Despite Thomas’ embarrassment, they order drinks and all get drunk.

Afterwards, Mary becomes too drunk to make it to her room by herself, and so Thomas assists her to get there. Drunk and aroused, Bigger starts to kiss Mary. Just as Thomas puts Mary on the bed, her blind mother enters Mary’s room. Even though Mrs Dalton is unable to see, Thomas becomes terrified of her presence.

Bigger worries that Mary would reveal his presence. Therefore decides to cover her face with a pillow and accidentally suffocates her to death.

Mrs Dalton being unaware of Mary’s death, she prays for her daughter and goes back to bed. Thomas attempts to hide the body by combusting it in Dalton’s furnace. He then uses Dalton’s prejudice against communist to frame Jan for the disappearance of Mary. Thomas thinks that Dalton will believe that Jan is harmful and might have kidnapped his daughter for political reasons. Bigger takes advantage of the racial prejudices of Dalton to avoid suspicion, as he continues to act ignorant, timid black servant. The death of Mary gives Bigger a sense of identity and power he has never known. Bessie, Thomas’ girlfriend, makes a comment that motivates him to get ransom money from the Daltons’ family. The family only knows of Mary’s disappearance and not death. Thomas decides to write a ransom letter and signs his name as “Red.” He then forces his girlfriend to take part in the ransom plan. Mary’s bones are got in the furnace, and Thomas decides to flee with Bessie and hide in an empty building. Thomas then rapes Bessie, and with fear that she
might give him away, he kills her using a brick when she falls asleep.

After a dramatic shoot-out, Bigger becomes captured eventually. The public and press determine his punishment even before his trials start. The furious population thinks that he raped Mary prior to killing and burning her to hide the proof of the rape. The mob and authorities use Thomas’ crime as an opportunity forterrorizing the whole South Side. Jan pays Bigger a visit while in jail. He tells him that he understands how he shamed, angered, and terrified Thomas through his violation of the social norms that rule the race
connections. Jan talks to his friend, Boris, to defend Thomas. Boris and Jan speak with Thomas, and he starts to view whites as people and equals. Boris attempts to save Thomas from the death sentence, arguing that while Thomas is accountable for his crimes, it is essential to know that he is a product of his surroundings. A portion of the blame for Thomas’ crimes belongs to the hopeless, fearful existence that he had encountered in a racist community. Boris says that there will be more like Thomas if America fails to
stop vengeance and hatred. Despite the arguments made by Boris, Thomas is given a death penalty.

Thomas is not a hero in any way. Despite seeing that, Wright coerces us to go into Thomas’ mind and have an understanding of the negative effects of the social environment in which he was brought up. Thomas was not born a criminal. He is a native son-a product of the American violence, racism, and culture that suffuse it.

Description of main characters

Bigger Thomas

He is a black man living in poverty in Chicago’s South Side. He has few chances to improve his life, even if he felt inspired to do so.


She is Dalton’s daughter. She freely speaks to Thomas about his rights as his parent’s employee.


He is a communist and Mary’s boyfriend. He tries to educate Thomas about his rights.


She is Bigger’s girlfriend, and the two regularly have sex. She heavily drinks to cope with her life as a domestic worker. She is raped and killed by his boyfriend, Thomas.Boris Max
Boris is brought on board by Jan as Thomas’ attorney after he is arrested and found guilty for the murder of Bessie and Mary.

Mrs Thomas

This is Bigger’s mother. She loves her son but finds herself in continuous conflict with her son. She wants Bigger to get a job, provide for the family, and join her at church, yet he resists.

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