Professor Heather Russell
Racism and the Oppressed Black Man—Bigger Thomas
In 20th Century African-American Literature, the students were instructed to write a critical analysis on one of five texts reviewed throughout the course. This paper will provide an analytical approach on the concept of race and identity as reflected in, Richard Wright’s, Native Son. Bigger Thomas’ instinct for survival plays a key role for the reasons behind his actions in this novel. Was it mere survival instinct that jolted Bigger to murder? Or did he, as he mentioned— “kill for something”? Whether the instinct was survival or “for something”, Bigger was driven to murder and showed little regret for his actions. Author Richard Wright, provides a fictional account of a young black man, Bigger Thomas, born and raised in poverty. As the protagonist of Native Son, the reader is enthralled by the struggles faced by Thomas as a result of his horrid choices. The nature of his environment facilitated his rebellious behavior and an ill-fated circumstance with a wealthy white woman, led to his ultimate demise. By the mere age of twenty, Thomas’ life revolved around petty crimes and acts of illicit behavior. His job as a chauffeur for a wealthy family introduced him to Mary Dalton, his first victim. Dalton’s inappropriate behavior, for example her interrogation of Bigger’s life style, contributed to his apprehension and agitation, which later ignited his fatal act. Following a rowdy night of drinking and sexual tension between Thomas and Ms. Dalton, they both ended up in an unpredictable, yet highly compromising situation. To avoid detection from the Dalton matriarch, Thomas unintentionally murders Ms. Dalton, and his life then spirals out of control, resulting in the second murder of his girlfriend, Bessie. After avoiding the authorities for several days, Thomas is eventually caught and found guilty of the murder and alleged raping of Mary Dalton, with similar charges faced for the death of Bessie Mears. Regardless of the efforts from his defense attorney, Boris Max, Thomas is found guilty of both murders and sentenced to death by electrocution or “the chair”— as mentioned by Bigger. In the end, Thomas explains to his attorney: “’I didn’t want to kill... But what I killed for I am!’”. He further states: “’When a man kills, it’s for something…I didn’t know I was really alive in this world until I felt things hard enough to kill for ‘em’” (Wright 429). Even with death closely approaching, he shows minimal remorse for his actions and more concern for his mother than for the victims or their families— an indication of Bigger’s character. At the end of the novel, the author provides an insight on how the protagonist was conceived. The character, Bigger Thomas, is based on Wright’s personal experiences living in the ghetto with bullies and street thugs from his childhood in Jackson, Mississippi. Despite Bigger’s faults, the reader can still manage to empathize with the character and forgive him for his misdoings. From the first page I was utterly captivated by Wright’s writing style and the tragic story of Bigger Thomas. Bigger is a victim of his own society that was racially segregated and oppressed by the wealthy white class. Racism, more specifically towards blacks, has been around for centuries. It was, and still is, an intrinsic part of American society and an integral part of the black and white public in the 1930s, defining who and what a person could become. More closely related to the story line, is the historical aspect of slavery, how it pertains to the African-American society, and its long-term effects on racism. The term slavery is most commonly described as the state of a human being owned and empowered by another. The institution of slavery dates as far back as the ancient Egyptian civilization. In the U.S., slavery is often associated to the oppression endured by blacks...