The Tragedy of Self-Awareness in Native Son

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The Tragedy of Self-Awareness in Native son

Richard Wright’s Native Son is about the cost of suffering and sacrifices which one man, defined as the Other from the mainstream of society, must pay in order to live as a full human being in a world that denies him the right to live with dignity. As a social being, Bigger Thomas is completely deprived himself because he is unable to find his social and self-esteemed values both in the stunted ghetto life and in the oppression of racist society. Therefore, the only way Bigger can express himself is through violence and rebellion: Wright views Bigger’s tragic destiny as the evidence which directly reflects the violence of a racist society. Eventually, in Native Son, Wight’s accusation is directed toward the systematized oppression applied by the white people, designed to keep the blacks from advancing and attaining their fullest potentialities.

Wright’s major purpose in Native Son is to show how tyrannical racist society oppresses the external and internal condition of Bigger Thomas, and how Bigger’s existence is distorted in that oppressive condition. Under the external oppression, black people come to inevitably go through an inner refraction, extremely internalizing the external oppression into the self, at the same time. On that account, self-hatred, shame and impotence are produced. Bigger’s existence, also, is perverted from not only his harsh reality but his own stunted inner-self. Under this dehumanizing condition, he has to be “a dispossessed and disinherited man,” and has to struggle for his existence even by means of radical violent actions (Wright 466).

The deep-rooted discordance induces an inner-refraction, and promotes the fundamental fear of self. That concretely appears in the phase of Bigger who has to observe his family’s suffering, and suffers from confirming his powerlessness. As for Bigger or other black people, fear means poor, incapable and furious. At the same time, fear is an anxious state of mind that he/she is afraid that him/herself is really such a person. This is the heart of the fear that blacks, including Bigger, feel, and that Wright wants to warn of.

Similarly, in the case of Bigger, being confronted with the problematic condition, he is unwilling to confirm in his mind that he is valueless: “Each time he asked himself that question his mind hit a blank wall and he stopped thinking” (Wright 12). In order not to directly see his reality, Bigger suspends his thinking from the unbearable and repetitious everyday-life. Therefore, wastefully he just spends most of time in the trivial matters such as deciding to “buy a ten-cent magazine, or go to a movie, or go to the poolroom and talk with the gang, or just loaf around” (Wright 13). The following description well shows Bigger’s unconscious desire to look away from a grim reality. He stretched his arms above his head and yawned; his eyes moistened. The sharp precision of the world of steel and stone dissolved into blurred waves. He blinked and the world grew hard again, mechanical, distinct (Wright 16).

What Bigger wants is an escape from the “mechanical” and “distinct” society (Wright 16). Thus, he wants to see the distinct boundary of society to be blurred even in the short moment of yawning. He feels comfort in the instant moment that sharp distinction of reality is blunt. The comfort, however, offered by temporary optical illusion, vanishes even simply by a blink.

This kind of escapist-inclination is also revealed in the cases of Mrs. Thomas or Bigger’s girlfriend, Bessie. Mrs. Thomas retreats into conventional religion because she is unable to handle the harsh reality. Likewise, Bessie is frequently anesthetized by alcohol, swing music, and sex because she is afraid to realize herself, completely trapped by white-centered society. In relation to Bigger, he is momentarily satisfied with constructing his own fantasy: indulging in movies, dreaming of robbing a white-owned store, and...
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