Native Son a Novel by Richard Wright

Posted: September 24, 2007 in Classic Literature, Native Son, Richard Wright

Native Son (1940) is a novel by American author Richard Wright. The novel tells the story of 22-year old Bigger Thomas, an African-American of the poorest class, struggling to live in Chicago’s South Side ghetto in the 1930s. His life is doomed from the outset: after Bigger accidentally kills a white woman, he runs from the police, kills his girlfriend and is then caught and tried. “I didn’t want to kill”, Bigger shouted. “But what I killed for, I am! It must’ve been pretty deep in me to make me kill.”

Written mostly in the third person, Wright gets inside the head of “brute Negro” Bigger, revealing his feelings, thoughts and point of view as he commits crimes, is confronted with racism, violence and debasement—the name “Bigger” both is a play of the word “Nigger”, and a nod to the bigger social forces behind his actions. While not apologizing for Bigger’s crimes, Wright is sympathetic to the systemic inevitability behind them. The story is a powerful statement about the inevitable fate of African-Americans as a result of racial inequality and social injustice. As Bigger’s lawyer points out, there is no escape from this destiny for his client or any other black American, since they are the necessary product of the society that raised them. “No American Negro exists,” Wright once wrote “who does not have his private Bigger Thomas living in his skull.”

Literary significance & criticism
Wright’s protest novel was an immediate best-seller, selling 250,000 hardcover copies in its initial run. It was one of the earliest successful attempts to explain the racial divide in America in terms of the social conditions imposed on African-Americans by the dominant white society. It also made Wright the wealthiest black writer of his time and established him as a spokesperson for African-American issues, and the “father of Black American literature”.

In 1993 the novel was for the first time published in its entirety by the Library of America, together with an introduction, a chronology and notes by Arnold Rampersad, a well-regarded scholar of African-American literary works. This imprint also contains Richard Wright’s 1940 essay How ‘Bigger’ Was Born.

It is number 71 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.[1] The Modern Library named it #20 on their list of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century. [source: wikipedia]

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