Native Son - The Metamorphosis of Bigger Thomas
In the turn of the century, the time of Bigger Thomas, the roles of black men and women in America were heavily restricted compared to the white population. Black people were also still treated unequally and dealt with as ignorant fools. Richard Wright's novel, Native Son, embraces this knowledge and follows the reaction of one angry man as he manages the delights of his exploits and the consequences of his deeds. Challenging pressures and stereotypes, Bigger believes he understands the world and that he is completely in control, unperturbed by anything or anyone. Although he is blind to society in essence, Bigger is deeply influenced by his oppression, exemplified by his actions, escape, and eventual demise.
From the beginning, Bigger is a visibly shaken young man, extremely fearful of the society in which he is forced to inhabit. While a cowardly lion at heart, he often bares his teeth, shows his claws, and occasionally growls to save face, all in an effort to prove to his friends and peers that he is not, in fact, scared of his life. This is plainly illustrated when his friend Gus says, "You see, Bigger, you the cause of all the trouble we ever have. Ain't I got a right to make up my mind? Naw; that ain't your way. You start cussing. You say I'm scared. It's you who's scared!" (Wright 28). Bigger's immediate defense is, as Gus predicted, to shout and threaten until he has satisfied himself for the time being that he truly is not afraid of anything. Bigger is, however, intensely terrified of life because he wholeheartedly believes that he has no destiny. He begins to resent himself for this belief and thrusts the blame to everyone else in the world but himself, allowing himself to have faith in the idea of everything that happens to him is because of the fault and actions of others.
In his novel, Wright says white people are blind to the individuality of the blacks, writing, "to Bigger and his kind white people were not really people; they were a sort of great natural force, like a stormy sky looming overhead, or like a deep swirling river stretching suddenly at one's feet in the dark. As long as he and his black folks did not go beyond certain limits, there was no need to fear that white force. But whether they feared it or not, each and every day of their lives they lived with it; even when words did not sound its name, they acknowledged its reality. As long as they lived here in this prescribed corner of the city, they paid mute tribute to it" (Wright 114). To exemplify this notion, during Native Son, Bigger also often, and somewhat justifiably, complains about the suffering he endures because of the domineering white society. He feels enclosed and crowded in the Black Belt, "the African-American internment camp of 1950s Chicago" (Collier-Thomas, page 273). "Forced to pay higher in housing, transportation, and other areas, blacks often worked harder and longer hours that quickly broke their backs and spirits" (Collier-Thomas 33), as shown by Bigger's on-again off-again girlfriend Bessie. After a long day's work, Bessie's only initiative is to do "something to make her feel that she was making up for the staved life she life that she was leading" (Wright 139) and quickly drink herself into a deep stupor. Like many others in black society, Bessie works "long . . . hard, and hot hours seven days a week," with hardly a break. "Hours like these," says John Collier-Thomas, author of Chronology of the Civil Rights Movement, "were not uncommon, worked by people of all genders and ages, in deplorable conditions." Despite his use of her in her intoxications, Bigger resented Bessie for succumbing to white society and letting them feed off her hard work. Ultimately, because of his repugnance, Bigger resisted work with fervor, fighting to keep away from it at all costs.
Bigger's family is one of the variables that...