Bigger, whom the novel revolves around, portraysvarious personality elements through his actions. Many of his action suggest an overriding response to fear, whichstems from his exposure to a harsh social climate in which a clearline between acceptable behavior for white’s and black’s exists. His swift anger and his destructive impulses stem from that fearand becomes apparent in the opening scene when he fiercely attacksa huge rat. The same murderous impulse appears when his secretdread of the delicatessen robbery impels him to commit a viciousassault on his friend Gus. Bigger commits both of the brutalmurders not in rage or anger, but as a reaction to fear.
Histypical fear stems from being caught in the act of doingsomething socially unacceptable and being the subject ofpunishment. Although he later admits to Max that Mary Dalton’sbehavior toward him made him hate her, it is not that hate whichcauses him to smother her to death, but a feeble attempt to evadethe detection of her mother. The fear of being caught with awhite woman overwhelmed his common sense and dictated hisactions. When he attempted to murder Bessie, his motivation camefrom intense fear of the consequences of “letting” her live.
Bigger realized that he could not take Bessie with him or leaveher behind and concluded that killing her could provide her only”merciful” end. The emotional forces that drive Bigger are conveyed by means otherthan his words. Besides reactions to fear, his actions demonstratean extremely quick temper and destructive impulse as an integralpart of his nature. Rage plays a key part in his basic nature,but does not directly motivate the murders he commits.
Rage doesnot affect Bigger’s intelligence and quick thinking and it becomesevident during the interview with Briton. The detective makesBigger so angry that the interrogation becomes a game to Bigger,a game of logic and wills, of playing the stupid negro, andtelling the man exactly what he wants to hear. The game Biggerplays during the interrogation shows his great intelligence andability to think quickly on his feet. Bigger also displayed hisintelligence in the creation of the ransom note. Using thesituation to his advantage, Bigger wrote a ransom note to extortMary’s parents for money.
To make the note even more convincingand to dissuade blame from himself, Bigger signs the note with thecommunist symbol of a hammer and sickle. Although the book revolves around Bigger he possesses few goodqualities, which get his horrendous actions negate, making him ananti-hero. He possess the violent tendencies to commit rape,extortion of the dead girls parents, robbing, and killing innocentpeople. These traits do not portray a simple victim ofcircumstance, but a habitual criminal acting out against asociety.
While Bigger dominates the story, his appalling actionsmake him a man that the reader can not look upon as a hero. Infact the author punishes the anti-hero character by condemning himto death for his crimes. One of the two most sympathetic characterizations of white personsin the novel comes from the character of Jan Erlone, Mary Dalton’sfriend. He exhibits an enthusiastic personality and represents anidealistic young organizer for the Communist party. Mary’sparents and their servant Peggy distrust his motives. Biggerinitially expresses a distaste for “reds” when responding to Jan’sfriendly advances during their first meeting.
While receivingdistrust from those around him, Jan retains a simple belief in theequality for all men, regardless of social class or race. Throughout Jan’s first meeting with Bigger, he regards Bigger withthe utmost respect. During the course of the night, Jan sits inthe front of the car with Bigger, eats with him, drinks with him,and speaks to him as an equal. Those actions of equality portraymore than a decent man, it shows that Jan’s character possesses astrong sense of morality and honesty.
Jan is also characterizedby other heroic traits, forgiveness and understanding. As aninteresting twist of fate, Jan gets Bigger an attorney, anddemonstrates that he could forgive Bigger for implicating him forMary’s “kidnapping”. The second sympathetic white character, Boris A. Max, portrays theCommunist lawyer whom Jan brings to help Bigger.
Max’s legalknowledge and his mastery of tactics are constantly in evidence. By taking Bigger’s case pro-bono, Max shows two aspects of hisnature, charity and a need to defend the oppressed. By acceptingthe task of Bigger’s defense, he makes it painfully clear that histrue intent originates from a desire to protect the image of thecommunist party. That passion does not adversely affect his skilland he diligently works to protect his client from injustice.
Themoment Bigger accepts Max’s offer to represent him, Max protectshis client’s interests and insists upon his rights. Maxconstantly demonstrates his intelligence, in his pursuit ofjustice and a fair trial for his client Bigger Thomas. The members of the Dalton family represent the naivet? of whitesto the realities of social oppression. Mr. and Mrs. Daltonattempt to correct their wrongs by donating to various blackcharities.
They create a boy’s club, donating ping pong tablesand various other impractical items. In doing so, they do notmake any personal sacrifices and basically give only minimalpersonal involvement to the cause. They have not developed agenuine understanding of the economic and social conditions of theblack people. Mr.
and Mrs. Dalton are naive about their lack ofimpact on the social and economic situations of the blacks thatthey attempt to help. The author does not make them callous orbigoted. Their daughter, the wild twenty-one year old MaryDalton, lacks the refinement of her parents. She wants to treatothers as equals, but her actions make Bigger uncomfortable and hegrows to resent her for her actions.
Bigger’s family and Bessie Mears represent, the “beaten” negros. They have all accepted the that their lives will never have thepossibility for improvement. They feel doomed to remain in thepits of the slums. A lost outlook on life represents Bessie’smost outstanding personality trait.
Through her self-awarenessshe reiterates in multiple references that she exists as a “lost”soul. Bessie circumstances prevent her from going any farther inher life. She briefly escapes with the use of alcohol whichBigger provides her in exchange for “love”. An aura of deathsurrounds her even before Bigger murders her. Like Bessie,Bigger’s mother appears trapped on a one way street going nowhere.
ConflictsAn interesting aspect of Native Son develops from the many levelsof conflict occurring simultaneously in the book. On asuperficial level personal conflicts arise, but deeper conflictsabout race, social status, and political view points drive thesesuperficial conflicts. When the book opens Bigger has an argumentwith his mother, and then his sister, about getting a job. Confrontations like these happen constantly throughout this novel,but neither Bigger nor the other characters grow from theseconflicts. The characters act out in rage due to stress caused bysocial circumstances.
Bigger’s violent temper gets him intovarious conflicts with his gang, a man on the roof whom heattacks, and the fellow who owns the pool hall. Although these actions demonstrate acts of rage, they do notportray the true motivation for Bigger’s actions. The cause ofBigger personal conflicts stem his fear of repercussion for hisactions as a black in a white dominated society. His fear of theconsequences of being discovered with a drunk white woman, driveBigger Thomas to smother Mary Dalton.
This fear arose because ofthe non physical barriers, set up by society, between white andblack people. This tension made Bigger angry while he was forcedto secretly drive Jan and Mary around in the car and finally madehim snap. Like Bigger, the entire city demonstrates conflictsbased upon fear brought about by racial segregation. During theprogress of the man hunt, blacks and whites go at each othersthroats. These various conflicts all stem from fear and racialhatred.
Although Richard Wright portrays the segregation of theblacks, he does not omit the segregation of various social groupssuch as the communists. In contrast, Jan and Max’s efforts tosave Bigger stem from a struggle for equality. They too feel theconstraints of oppression, but have a philosophy and socialposition with which to rebel. ThemesFrustration and hopelessness develop as major themes of thestory. When Bigger and his friend Gus watch a sky writing plane,Bigger expresses frustration in his statement “I could fly one ofthem things if I had a chance. ” Discussing the impossibility ofaccomplishment in the white-controlled world, Bigger expresseshopelessness, saying, “They don’t let us do nothing.
” When Gusreminds Bigger that they have always known this, Bigger agrees,but insists that he cannot accustom himself to it. “Every time Ithink about it,” he says, “I feel like somebody’s poking a red-hotiron down my throat. ” Today a good example of the same type offrustration can be seen on the various music videos done by blackartists. These video portray, poor education and a lack ofopportunities afforded to blacks. Oppression, hate, and the separatism between whites and blacksalso arises as a main theme. Bigger represents the oppressed butrebellious black, in contrast the Dalton’s represent naive whites,and Jan and Max represent the oppressed communists.
These variouscharacters hate each other without comprehend the underlyingsocial cause. Only the oppressed groups come to help and forgiveeach other by the end of the novel, while the oppressors stillasking for bitter vengeance. The separatism become obvious whileBigger when sits in the car with Mary and Jan. He feels afraidand uncomfortable being treated like an equal and being allowed tosit near them. This separatism also made his oppressors blindlyignorant of the realities of social oppression. Separatismaffects both sides of the color line.
The characters considereach other as separate entities, never interacting on an equalbasis. Social ignorance allows the scapegoating of Bigger, tovent the anger and rage built up from by many years of tensionbetween the races. A good example of separatism and oppression inour area shows up in the conflicts between Whites and Cubans. Arguments about English as the official language as the officiallanguage of the US represent the manifestations of this conflict.
A notable theme that the author portrays through Bigger’s actionscome from the true meaning of freedom to the oppressed. Bigger’sdiscovered “freedom” came to him in two instances, in both caseswhile committing murder. With the death of Mary Dalton, Biggerstarts to realize that for the first time he has gone against thelaw. Breaking the proverbial barrier and the proper limits ofwhat a black man can do in society he is no longer controlled orrestrained by another mans rules. This idea expands to note thatwhen Bigger himself defines the rules, he makes himself free. Interestingly serial killers in our society have multiplied, acommon trait that they all possess is abuse in their earlylifetime.
Perhaps they act out of the same misguided need forfreedom that Bigger found when committing murder. Author’s BeliefsBigger, his family, and Bessie all feel the affects of separatismand oppression. Richard Wright believes in the immorality ofoppression. He uses his book as a tool to vent his frustration,at the world that segregates negros. His characters, themes andconflicts probably originate from his own experience ofseparatism.
By using such a wide range of characters, he givesthe readers who are not black an insight into the horrificallydesperate situations many poor blacks experience. Bigger’s actions toward Jan and Mary portray his resignation tothe social inequity of the color barrier. He acts simply, as asubservient “yessah”. It appears the author believes the truewall of separation between whites and blacks is an almostimpassable division. Jan and Max base their decisions on the equality of man.
Having amoral basis for action leads them to have a means to deal withoppression and the ability to hope. In contrast, Bigger acceptsseparatism as an immutable condition, and rebels against it bycommitting crimes. Bigger receives punishment for his actions. The author would appears to support socialist concepts as theproper rebellion against oppression. He seems to believe in theequality of men and the value of demonstrating it in everydayactions.