The trial of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, in 1924, was known as the crime of the century. Two Jewish boys, whom lived in Chicago, kidnapped and murdered local neighborhood boy Bobby Franks. This case exploded in the media and went all over the country. Down in Mississippi, Richard Wright came upon the story and decided to incorporate it in the novel that he was currently writing. Throughout his life, "Wright's fascination with rebellious lawbreakers would catalyze some of his most important work"(Butler 1). In Wright's novel, Native Son, Bigger Thomas was created from five young black men from Wright's childhood. These men were rebellious criminals who Wright looked up to and feared. Wright believed they acted the way they did because of how society had treated them. "Wright dramatized the parasitic nature of the class system by telling the story of the wealthy Daltons' participation in the systematic exploitation and destruction of Bigger Thomas"(Guttman 170). Wright did not just point this toward Bigger, but the black society as a whole. Richard Wright's novel is very similar to the Loeb and Leopold case with numerous differences that show how society treats different races for committing the same crime.
Bigger Thomas compared to Loeb and Leopold came from completely different backgrounds. In the novel, Bigger was a poor young African American boy. People would describe him as "about five feet, nine inches tall and his skin was exceedingly black"(Tuhkanen 6). He had lived in a run down apartment with his mother and younger siblings. When Bigger's mother woke up in the morning she would tell the boys to, "turn your heads so I can dress"(Wright 3). This was because their home consisted of one room that was not even large enough to dress themselves in privacy. His life had been defined by his fear and hatred towards whites for as long as he could remember. Bigger had only attended school up to the eighth grade, and that had limited his opportunity to find a good job. He had also been associated with a local gang. His mother would always preach to him that, "some of these days you going to wish you had made something out of yourself, instead of just a tramp"(9). Bigger had no idea where he wanted his life to go. This is most likely what people would assume of the life of Loeb and Leopold for committing their murder. On the contrary, Loeb and Leopold came from a well-grounded background. "Nathan F. Leopold was an intellectual prodigy"(Grant 169). He was fourteen when he entered the University of Chicago, and graduated four years later among the youngest graduates in his university's history. Nathan's father was a retired box manufacturer who was quite wealthy. He gave Nathan whatever he needed or wanted. Richard Loeb, Leopold's accomplice, was also above average in intelligence, but was not as gifted as Leopold. As Loeb was growing up it was easy for people to give him titles such as, "a liar, a thief, and a mischief-maker"(171). Loeb and Leopold met in college and became friends quickly. Loeb's friends did not like Leopold, and Leopold's friends did not like Loeb. This only brought the two to have a closer relationship. Unlike Loeb, "Leopold lacked real criminal tendencies, but he needed Loeb to complement him and serve as his alter ego"(173). While Bigger's murder was accidental, Loeb and Leopold's murder was entirely intentional. Bigger was offered a job from Mr. Dalton, the owner of his apartment, to be a driver. The reason he hired Bigger was that he was a "supporter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People"(Wright 53). His first job was to drive the owner's daughter, Mary Dalton, to the university. They find themselves to have picked up Jan, Mary's boyfriend, and drank some alcohol. Bigger ended up bringing Mary home drunk, and took advantage of her in her room. It seemed as if it was a mutually affection towards each other as "he tightened his fingers...
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