Representations of Women in Native Son

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Representations of Women in Native Son
In his most famous novel, Native Son, Richard Wright's female characters exist not as self-sufficient, but only in relation to the male figures of authority that surround them, such as their boyfriends, husbands, sons, fathers, and Bigger Thomas, the protagonists. Wright presents the women in Native Son as meaningless without a male counterpart, in which the women can not function as an independent character on their own. Although Wright depicts clearly the oppression of Blacks, he appears unconscious of creating female characters who regardless of race, are exploited and suppressed. Their sole purpose in the novel is to further the story by putting Bigger in new and more dangerous situations by questioning or threatening his male authority. Each major woman character in the story represents through her actions and particular personality a different kind of threat to Bigger's masculine power. There is Bigger's mother Mrs. Thomas, who offers him nothing in the way of motherly support, although Bigger perceives her caring as constant insult and nagging. Along side his mother is Bigger's sister Vera who loves her brother, but has similar doubts about his motives in the family. Next we have Mary Dalton, the idealistic and headstrong young white girl whose intention is to connect with Bigger and make him feel like her equal, which eventually gets her killed. Her mother, Mrs. Dalton, is virtually her complete opposite: helpless, weak and frail. Her one influence on the storyline is her indirect responsibility for her daughter's murder. And finally there is Peggy, a patronizing Irish, and Bessie, Bigger's overworked, excitable, alcoholic girlfriend and second murder victim. In general she is not intelligent or strong enough to pose a real threat to his security, but when she questions Bigger's authority he is compelled to kill her. Each of these women is different, but in the end each plays the same part--the intimidator, the threat to Bigger and what he wants.

One of first females we meet in Native Son is Mrs. Thomas, who is portrayed as a hard-working black woman who struggles to keep her family together. Her main worry is her eldest son, Bigger. She considers him to be a troublemaker, does not like the gang he hangs out with, and wants him to get a job so her other two children can move into a different apartment and stay in school. Like many women portrayed in a patriarchal society, Mrs. Thomas relies on the leadership of a "man of the house", who just so happens to be her eldest son Bigger. Her dependency on Bigger is a familiar trait found in many of Wright's female characters, regardless of race, that are needy of male guidance. As most black women parallel with the black church, Mrs. Thomas is also a religious woman who finds emotional support in prayer, and she fears that Bigger's rowdy life will lead to disaster. Her religion translates into a source of strength for her, yet a source of weakness for Bigger who is a victim of social limitations. She also relies on her religion as a source of comfort in the face of the crushing realities of life. Bigger, however, compares his mother's religion with Bessie's whiskey drinking, as in a pastime with no value. Mrs. Thomas's character represents Black women who believe that their family stability and social status is contingent upon their devotion to the church and God. Although Mrs. Thomas seems to be a decent mother, by nagging Bigger to improve himself, she makes him annoyed with his life, which inadvertently deteriorates his character and his relationship with his family. For example, after Bigger kills Mary, he sees his mother as passively and blindly accepting the conditions of her life. This passivity enrages Bigger, and he feels humiliated when his mother begs the Daltons to help save him. Mrs. Thomas is represented as a black conformist to an intimidating, yet overwhelming, society that Bigger is working to...
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