Destiny of the Free Rat
The Existentialist view separates into two arguments, both of which the author Richard Wright may support. In the lecture, “Existentialism is Humanism,” by Jean Paul Sartre, existentialism is the purpose of mankind’s existence breaks into two ideologies; Atheist Existentialism, which conveys that man’s existence comes before he realizes his purpose or essence, and Christian Existentialism, the belief that God or higher powers foresees man’s essence before he exists. The novel, Native Son, by Richard Wright, the protagonist Bigger Thomas is a nineteen-year-old man living in the poor community of the Black Belt who later kills the daughter, Mary, of his white employer, Mr. Dalton and escapes from capture when he the cops find the remains. Bigger displays the Atheist Existentialism view, where he goes by life as an open book, waiting to procure his essence in life. As he progresses throughout the novel, Bigger supports the Atheist view of anguish, abandonment, and despair as he strives to find his essence in life.
Although few may conclude that Native Son supports the Christian Existentialism view of essence before existing, the majority of the novel supports the Atheist Existentialism of existence before essence. The reader sees through Bigger’s actions and choices that he does not follow a predetermined path set by a higher power that chooses how he lives. This demonstrates that Bigger only exists before he finds his essence in life. In Sartre’s lecture, he explains, in support of Atheist Existentialism, that mankind’s purpose is only a compilation of his actions. He defines the ideology as “existence comes before its essence”(Sartre 10). The “existence” suggests that man is made without purpose and is beginning as just living. Without a God, there is no set aspiration or predestination for mankind, and man is simply roaming around in search of purpose or reason for existence. This supports “before its essence” in which the speaker suggests that as humans live out their lives man comes to define himself through not a maker but by an individual’s actions and decisions. An individual is nothing but what he makes of himself. He does not have a definition before birth nor does society shape him. However, an individual is gratuitous to shape his purpose and desires. Through the character Bigger, Wright supports the Atheist Existentialism as Bigger tries to find the purpose for his life. In this scene, Bigger kills Mary Dalton, a white girl from a very prominent family and tries to hide the evidence by burning her body in a furnace. He is now on the way back to the house to check to see if the body burned all the way. Before Bigger enters the house, he feels “a confidence, a fullness, and a freedom; his whole life [is] caught up in a supreme and meaningful act” (Wright 338). The “confidence, a fullness, and a freedom” suggest how he supports the Atheist Existentialism as he feels free from a directed path. He is described as “caught up in a supreme and meaningful act” which paints Bigger as defining himself through his actions and has been living a life without any meaning. Throughout the novel Richard Wright portrays more evidence supporting Sartre’s ideology through Bigger. Bigger has just left his girlfriend’s house and is now returning to the Dalton’s. As he walks, he thinks of how he will be living this new life of his. From the moment he felt in control over how he wanted to live, Bigger “[feels] that he [has] his destiny in his grasp. He [is] more alive then he [can] ever remember having been”(Wright 420). The phrase “feels” that “his destiny in his grasp” Wright connotes that Bigger is following the Atheist Existentialism by having control over his destiny and choosing how he lives. The description of his life being “more alive” shows that he is now free to choose his actions an ability that mankind is capable of doing. Wright supports the Atheist Existentialism in which man is not...
Cited: Sartre, Jean Paul. “Existentialism is Humanism.” Lecture, 1946. Accessed online, Google.http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htm 3/20/13.
Wright, Richard. Native Son. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005.
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