Dialect Journals

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Claudia Arizaga
Mrs. Trout
English 2(H)
14 May 2013
Christian Existentialism in Native Son
Several people wonder, what is the purpose of life? Others may accept as true that they make their own choices in life. In reality, one’s life is not determined by the individual, but by a higher authority. Jean-Paul Sartre lectures about the meaning of life through “Existentialism is Humanism.” He jots down two sides of existentialism: Christian and Atheist side. Christian existentialism is defined with the ideology “essence before existence.” On the other hand, Atheist existentialism is defined as “existence before essence.” In other words, Sartre portrays two pathways of life, one is predetermined, the other is freewill. In Native Son, by Richard Wright, the author creates a novel using Christian existentialism. In the story, the protagonist and antagonist Bigger Thomas, undergoes through austere internal conflicts. His mother pressures him to get the job working with the Dalton family, a very opulent family. Bigger manages to get the job as a chauffer for the Daltons. On his first day on the job, he has to drive Mary Dalton, Mr. Dalton’s young daughter, to her school. She decides to skip school and instead goes out with her boyfriend, Jan. Mary gets dead drunk and cannot even hold herself up. Bigger has no choice but to carry her up to her room. He lays her on her bed, when Mrs. Dalton enters the room. To Bigger’s advantage, she is blind and cannot see him. Unfortunately, Mary tries to respond to her mother’s questions, stimulating Bigger to cover her face with her pillow. In his fear of getting caught, he ends up suffocating Mary, bringing her life to an end. The purpose of one’s life connects to the views of Christian existentialism through the ideology “essence before existence.” Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son, is written supporting Jean-Paul Sartre’s categories of Christian existentialism: essence before existence, the paper-knife theory, quietism, and the title, Native Son.

Some readers may argue that Wright’s novel supports the Atheist side of existentialism, because they believe that Bigger is accountable for everything that happens to him. Every situation in his life is his own fault and he has the power to change it. . However, Bigger’s internal conflict proves that he is predestined and is in fact the product of the environment. As mentioned, Christian existentialism’s ideology is essence before existence, which is depicted in Native Son. Few may elucidate this ideology with a negative connotation. Conversely, when one deciphers this thought correctly, one can cognize that positively, every event that happens in one’s life has been determined by someone else. Thus meaning that any negative situation in one’s life is not one’s fault, for he or she has not determined it. One is able to pass the blame to someone else. When Sartre mentions this, “…the fact that they believe that existence comes before essence…” (Sartre 2). Sartre is stating that Christian existentialists believe that one’s pathway of life or “essence” has been determined before that person’s “existence.” In Native Son, the author portrays that Bigger is living a predetermined path. Bigger is out on the street hanging out with Gus, one of his friends who is also part of the gang. They are discussing how they feel so powerless, considering the fact that the white people make all decisions for blacks. Gus tells Bigger to just get drunk and forget about it. Bigger says, ‘“…It’s like I [am] going to do something I can’t help…”’ (Wright 22). Bigger is clearly stating to Gus that he feels like he has no control of his life. He mentions “something I can’t help” implying that he has no choice for whatever happens to him. He feels like a greater power is controlling him, thus supporting the ideology of “essence before existence.” If Bigger cannot control it, then that means his life is fated. This ideology is also supported in Book 2 of Native Son....
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