Book 414: Native Son by Richard Wright

Today’s guest speaker is Hieu Nguyen, a student at Jefferson Community & Technical College. He’s writing about Book 414 in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

The book Native Son by Richard Wright is divided into three book/sections, first being Fear, followed by Flight, and lastly Fate.  It is a novel about a twenty year old African-American male named Bigger Thomas, who lives in extreme poverty on the ghetto side of Chicago back in the early 1900s.  The story follows a troubled Bigger who is trying to understand his identity in this world. 

Fear, the first section, starts out with a scene where Bigger’s family is awaken and startled by a rat.  Here the reader understands the sense of the small apartment that Bigger shares with his mother and brother and sister.  Their form of privacy is the separation of a sheet that hangs between them.  Bigger hates his family for the situation that they are in and there’s not much he can do about it.  Later on Bigger finds a job working for the rich and white Dalton’s family.  Here for the first time Bigger is given his own room.  That evening he is asked by Mary, the daughter of the family, to drive her around town where she meets up with her Communist boyfriend, Jan.  During this encounter Bigger becomes more confused and frustrated with Mary and Jan.  They invite him to join them at dinner table while out at a public diner and to call them by their first names, and Bigger is not sure how to process everything because he was just supposed to be the driver, not a friend.  When Bigger and Mary return to the house, Mary is completely drunk.  He carries her up to her bedroom and gives in to temptation and kisses her.  Just as that happens, the bedroom door opens, and Mary’s blind mother enters the room.  Bigger afraid of her sensing his presence in the room and Mary’s drunken state, so he throws a pillow over her face to keep her silent.  Mrs. Dalton leaves the room after knowing that Mary is safe in her bed.  After Mrs. Dalton exit is when Bigger realized he has suffocated Mary with the pillow, and she is lifeless.  Afraid of what just happen, Bigger thought it would be best to make it seem like Mary has disappear, so he takes her body down to the house’s furnace to burn and dispose of her body.  He runs into trouble when her body doesn’t completely fit into the furnace.  He seizes a hatchet nearby and decapitates her head!  This is when he finally manages to fit her executed body inside the furnace allowing the corpse to burn to ashes…

Thoughts:  I don’t want to go further into details about the book because it is one that must definitely be read and not to be spoiled or ruined by me.  Though I remember reading this book back in high school with my classmates and every time class would meet we had a discussion on the events that were taking place in the story line.  Looking farther into depth of the meaning behind each scene helped amplify the meaning behind Bigger’s life events.  For instance, in the beginning where Bigger’s family is chasing around the rat within the tight living quarters.  In the introduction the narrator explains how Bigger’s mom blame him for their state of poverty and that he only thinks of himself because of his association with a group of close friends.  Bigger is under pressure for many different reasons.  

In the end you understand why the brilliant author, Richard Wright, called this book Native Son. A glimpse of that reason is because during the time frame of when the book took place, racism and inequality was at large.  That society was to blame for who Bigger was as a person and the crimes that he committed.  The argument is that the cycle of hatred and because of the social conditions in which Bigger was raised, that he was the product, or “native son” of what the culture of such violence and racism have created.  In other words he was molded into the person that he became later on in life.  I personally think that there is some truth behind this theory.  The explanations of this belief within the story are brilliantly written through Richard Wright’s novel.  Therefore I am glad it’s on the list of books you must read before you die.  If you have yet read this book, then you need to in order to find out the many events that follow after Mary’s body is burned in the Dalton’s home furnace!

Happy Reading!

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