Thomas Essay, Research Paper
THE DESTRUCTIVE EFFECTS OF RACISM ON BIGGER THOMAS
THESIS: Bigger Thomas represents the black man’s condition and his revolt against the injustices of the white caste society.
I. A social symbol for Americans
A. Victim of oppression
B. Product of western culture
II. A fearing and hating individual
1. Hates whites for oppressing him
2. Hates Jan and Mary for making him uncomfortable
III. An unlovable character through behaviors
A. Submits himself to destructive behavior
B. Shows cowardly behavior
IV. A human search for freedom
A. Bound by the stereotype “nigger”
B. Freed through murder
THE DESTRUCTIVE EFFECTS OF RACISM ON BIGGER THOMAS
When one looks at the contribution of blacks in the world of American literature, Richard Wright is considered one of the great contributors. Truly one of his books which highlights the black’s view of American society has to be Native Son. In Native Son, Richard Wright creates the characterization of “native sons” who are products of American civilization. From his own life experience, he portrays in Bigger Thomas a combination of character traits that illustrate persons who have lost meaning in their lives. Bigger Thomas represents the black man’s condition and his revolt against the injustices of the white caste society.
Richard Wright creates Bigger Thomas into a social symbol for Americans by making him a victim of oppression. Bigger, as well as all other African Americans, is forced to live in poverty. He lives in a crowded, dirty apartment with his mother, brother, and sister. His only way of seeing the white world is through the lives of the Dalton family, his rich employers (Smith 392).
An important factor in Wright’s development of Bigger is the struggle to keep power from the Black society. White men wants the Negro to be restricted from as much control as possible, “for had he had a chance to vote, he would have automatically controlled the richest lands of the South and with them the social, political, and economic destiny of a third of the Republic” (Wright Bigger X1).
Bigger is an ideal portrait of a product of Western culture. Bigger has little control over his life. “Wright builds up rather extensive documentation to prove that Bigger’s
actions, behavior, values, attitudes, and fate have already been determined by his status and place in American life” (Margolies Art 1). Bigger is alienated from any kind of
relationship. “[Wright] claimed he valued the ‘state of abandonment, aloneness.’ In this he was, finally, a true product of Western culture” (Discovering 5).
Western culture places Bigger, as well as other African Americans, in a position where they are expected to be submissive to whites. Bigger sees violence as the only alternative to “dumb submission to a dehumanizing lot” (Margolies Study 65-66). In Native Son, Bigger claims that the murder of Mary Dalton, his employer’s daughter, is not intentional. “But really I never wanted to hurt nobody. That’s the truth…I hurt folks ‘cause I felt I had to; that’s all. They were crowding me too close; they wouldn’t let me…Mr. Max, I didn’t mean to do what I did. I was trying to do something else” [sic] (Smith 393).
In Native Son, fear and hate are determining factors in Bigger’s life. The root of all of Bigger’s fears is realization of what he, as a black man, has to endure and will become (Margolies Art 2). Bigger attacks his friends because he thinks that they can see his fear. By attacking them, he gives himself a false sense of courage (Margolies Study 76). He accidentally kills Mary Dalton because he is afraid that her mother will accuse him of sexually assaulting Mary. He also shows fear by burning her body so that no one will find it (Smith 392).
Bigger hates the fact that his black skin keeps him from having the opportunities and luxuries of the white world. “I could fly a plane if I had a chance, ‘Bigger said. ‘If you wasn’t black and if you had some money and if they’d let you go to aviation school, you could fly a plane,’ Gus said” [sic] (Wright Native 20). He hates to be reminded of this condition and hates those who do remind him. White people constantly remind Bigger that he cannot succeed (Discovering 5). “I feel like somebody’s poking a red-hot iron down my throat. Goddammit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we don’t. They do things and we can’t. It’s just like living in jail. Half the time I feel like I’m on the outside of the world peeping in through a knot-hole in the fence…”[sic] (Wright Native 22).
Even though Mary Dalton and her communist boyfriend, Jan, try to treat Bigger as an equal, they cannot escape his hatred. Mary and Jan frighten Bigger by their strange actions. Their actions are “something he can only interpret as mockery” (Discovering 3). “Was she laughing at him? Were they making fun of him? Why couldn’t they leave him alone? He wasn’t bothering them” (Wright Native 61).
Bigger’s hatred toward Mary, Jan, and other white people comes from more than the fact that he is oppressed or feels as he is being mocked. Bigger wants’ people to look past his black skin and see who he really is. He wants to be given a chance. Bigger hates white people because they do not see him as an individual person with his own thoughts and feelings. When they see Bigger, they see black (Margolies Study 84).
Wright portrays Bigger as a coward who gets his security from harming others, even his own friends. This trait makes Bigger unlovable. “He is not simply weak, he is an outright coward. He is a sullen bully” (Margolies Study 72). Though his actions are violent, he reacts to circumstances out of fear of the consequences. “Bigger’s choices are moral and metaphysical — not political or racial. He might have chosen love or submission, instead he elected violence and death as a sign of his being…”(Margolies Art 2-3). “Slowly, Gus Stood. Bigger held the open blade an inch from Gus’s lips. ‘Lick it,’ Bigger said, his body tingling with elation. Gus’s eyes filled with tears. ‘Lick it, I said! You think I’m playing? “(Wright Native 40-41).
Wright also uses Bigger’s destructive behavior to make him unlovable. Bigger takes what he wants at the expense of others. Anyone opposing him has to fight. “Never was
he happier than when he had someone cornered and at his mercy; it seemed the deepest meaning of his squalid life was at such times” (Wright Bigger 1X). This type of behavior
has destructive effects on Bigger: “…he always oscillated between moods of intense elation and depression” (Wright Bigger X).
Wright’s protagonist is purposefully not an educated or sophisticated man. He creates a character that mirrors the preconceived image of Blacks in the era that he was writing (Discovering 2-3). The monster in Native Son reflects the indifferent, impersonal, and industrialized society that existed in Wright’s day.. The similarities between Bigger and people today, white and black, are shocking. “It is not that Bigger Thomas is so different from us’ it is that he is so much like us” (Margolies Art 4).
Bigger Thomas is on a quest for freedom. He is seeking ways to free himself from the bonds that hold him to the degraded, impoverished, restricted life that he has. Thomas understands that blacks should not let the white man’s prejudice confine them. They should overcome these boundaries and not submit themselves to the preconceived image that the white society has of them (Smith 393). Bigger wants “to merge himself with others and be a part of this world, to lose himself in it so he could find himself, to be allowed a chance to live like others, even though he was black” (Wright Native 226).
Bigger Thomas finds freedom through murder. “After the murder of Mary Dalton, Bigger’s life seems to have a purpose” (Sanders 1). Through his crime he gains a confidence that he has not been able to find merely through violence. “There was something he knew and something he felt; something the world gave him and something he himself had; something spread in front of him and something spread out in back; and never in his life, with this black skin of his, had the two worlds, thought and feeling, will
and mind, aspiration and satisfaction, been together; never had he felt a sense of wholeness” (Wright Native 225).
Richard Wright uses his surroundings and his acquaintances to create his fictional world. For this reason Bigger Thomas becomes real, a combination of many men in the author’s world. The “native son” represents all “native sons” during this period of American history. Bigger Thomas searches for the answer to the question of how to live in the white man’s society. Native Son is his conclusion.
Margolies, Edward. The Art of Richard Wright. Southern Ilinois University Press,
1969. Gale Research Inc., 1993.
Native Sons A Critical Study of Twentieth-Century Negro American Writers.
Philadelphia: J. V. Lippincott Company, 1968.
“Richard Nathaniel Wright 1908-1960.” Discovering Authors. Gale Research Inc., 1993.
Sanders, Ronald. “Richard Wright and the Sixties.” Mainstream. Vol. XIV, August-
September, 1968. Gale Research, Inc. 1993.
Smith, Valerie, Lea Baechier, and A Walton Litz. African American Writers. New York:
Macmillan Publishing Company, 1993.
Wright, Richard. Native Son. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1940.
“How Bigger Was Born.” Native Son. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers,
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