Bigger And His Fear, Flight And Fate Essay, Research Paper
An ancient Greek myth has been told for centuries about a boy who lives in fear. Icarus had been forced to live his life imprisoned until one day he had the opportunity to escape. He had been provided with a pair of wax wings with which he could flee his captor. He took advantage of these wings and set sail. While in flight away from the prison, he discovered the joy and exhilaration that came with freedom. The boy challenged the wings and voyaged higher and closer to the hot sun. Soon enough, his wings melted and he perished in the vast sea. This story has served as a recurring theme in modern literature.
In the early 1940 s, acclaimed author, Richard Wright wrote his masterpiece Native Son. This novel deals with many of the same metaphorical ideas that first arose in the Greek myth. Wright s protagonist, Bigger, was a young African-American man who had been oppressed all his life by the white racist society which surrounded him. Much like Icarus, Bigger discovered a fatal way to release himself from his imprisoned life. And, like Icarus, Bigger also challenged his freedom and failed. Wright splits Bigger s story into three chapters, Fear, Flight and Fate. Each is significant to Bigger s journey through life.
Throughout the first section of the novel Bigger lives his life in fear. He fears the white man, the police, religion, love and most importantly, being known as a coward. Bigger s friend Gus states during an argument with Bigger You calling me scared so nobody ll see how scared you is! (29) Bigger reacts by leaping at him with intentions to inflict pain. Bigger responds this way to all of his fears. To shield himself from the acknowledgement of weakness, he deals with his fears through violence. His eyes red with anger and fear, his fists clenched and held stiffly to his side. (28) The reader observes one of Bigger s violent acts during the first scene of the novel, when he brutally smashes a rat with a skillet. His violence escalates as the chapter goes on. He and his friends plan to rob a delicatessen; however, Bigger is anxious due to the fact that the owner is a white proprietor. He decides to sabotage the robbery. Bigger picks a fight with Gus by threatening him with a knife. His strategy works and the robbery is aborted. Finally, at the end of the chapter, Bigger commits murder while caught in a frantic situation with the drunken daughter of his white employer. While in her room, her blind mother walks in. He fears that if he is discovered he would be fired and arrested. In order to silence the drunken girl, he suffocates her with a pillow. The mother assumes her daughter had just passed out.
Bigger is in flight, both physically and metaphorically, throughout the second chapter. After committing murder, he feels as though he can do anything. He felt a certain sense of power, a power born of a latent power to live the knowledge that he had killed a white girl they had loved and regarded as their symbol of beauty made him feel the equal of them. (155) Like the flying boy, Icarus, Bigger challenges his new freedom. He attempts to acquire money from his victim s family. He writes a ransom note suggesting communists had kidnapped the girl and were holding her for ransom. Bigger no longer feels the need to talk or interact with people who he originally felt had authority over him. He did not look at them; they were simply blind people (165) He alienates himself from his family. When detectives and his victim s family question him, he provides them with minimal answers. Inevitably, evidence of his victim s dead body is discovered and Bigger flees the scene. Now, he changes, adopts a new form of flight, one that is more literal. He must run, hide and be in physical flight from the police. Rather than enjoy his fleeting, spiritual freedom, he must realize that the sense of power he feels as a result of taking human life has not earned him release from his oppressors. By the end of this chapter, Bigger crashes into a sea of chaos. He had flown too high. Like Icarus, his arrogance had defeated him, leaving him surrounded by police.
Fate, rather than free will, takes over Bigger s life in the last chapter, leaving him without a sense of control over his life. Once in jail he knew his life was doomed. Never again did he want to feel anything like hope. (315) However, Bigger was provided with a communist lawyer who helped him to accept his life for what it was. This lawyer was the first white man who Bigger had interacted with that treated him as an equal. This lawyer talked to him, showed Bigger other ways to release stress, tension, and fear beside violence and crime. The strange thrill he felt when he talked about his problems is unknown to him. He describes it as this new sense of the value of himself gained from Max s talk, a sense fleeting and obscure for the first time in his life he felt the ground beneath his feet. (334) His spirit felt freer than it ever had before. In the end, Bigger was sentenced to death, despite his lawyer s fantastic argument; however, Bigger was no longer afraid to die. He tells Max in the last scene of the novel I didn t really know I was really alive in this world until I felt things hard enough to kill just go and tell Ma I was all right tell her I was all right and wasn t crying none (392)
Fear, Flight and Fate are timeless themes in art, both classical and modern. Perhaps these themes resonate in art because they appear too often in life. Painter, Jean-Michel Basquiat expressed his life as a black artist through his paintings. He depicted the prejudices he experienced as a Haitian-American through abstract expressionism. Many of his paintings feature images of blacks reacting violently and dangerously to their fears. Like Icarus and Bigger, Basquiat was self-destructive. Throughout his youth, he was forced to live on the streets. A well-known art critic discovered his work and began showing it in New York galleries. Basquiat was a huge success in the art world and he was able to escape his life in the streets. However, his monetary and critical success did not alter his sense of self or place in society. The force of pain and survival of the street continue exert control over his life and talents. He began using his money on drugs. Inevitably, he destroyed himself through a heroin overdose at age 25. While analyzing Native Son, the reader is able to make connections between Bigger s life and the stories of Icarus and Basquiat. The themes that they present, fear, flight, and fate are common tools used to illustrate lives of oppressed people and their reactions to freedom and success.