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Native Son [Reading] ➿ Native Son Author Richard Wright – Right from the start Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance it was for murder and rape Native Son tells the story of this young black man cau Right from the start Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance it was for murder and rape Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panicSet in Chicago in the s Wright's powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.

10 thoughts on “Native Son

  1. Ben Siems Ben Siems says:

    My older brother Larry who is extremely well read recently came to town for a visit He had with him a copy of Native Son I asked what prompted him to re read it He explained that he had actually never read it before which he confessed was really odd given that the book is an undisputed classic Well here is Larry's two word review of the bookHoly shitI concurThose who have studied the Harlem Renaissance know that Richard Wright was a passionate angry man the writer about whom other African American writers of his era would say Well I'd never write THAT but I'm glad someone did Native Son is a brutally frank look at the racial divide of the America of the 1940s and the relevance to today is positively painfulThere have been many profound and moving stories both true and fictionalized of young black men wrongfully accused of crimes This book dares to tell the story of a young black man who in a moment of panic commits a horrible act That makes the way the man is treated thereafter so incredibly present and real You can't read this story from a distance You're in it you feel it so palpablyI think Native Son is one of the most powerful and important American books ever written

  2. Matthew Matthew says:

    This book is extremely powerful I saw another review saying that they could not believe this was written and released in 1940 I agree as I can only imagine how controversial the content would have been at that time And even today it touches so closely on some of the topics you see in the news everyday it's like Wright could see into the futureThe main themes in the story involve perceptions and misconceptions of black people as well as how Communism was viewed in the decade leading up to McCarthyism and the Red Scare In this story there are many points of view and lots of evidence given dealing with tense situations that have no really great answers I thought Wright did a good job giving a thought provoking narrative without obviously saying here is the answer The story acknowledges that the whole situation is difficult and will not be easily remedied after years of habitual behavior on all sides of the issue I will be amazed if you can read this and not be left with your mind churning Also I have to say that this was one of the most intense nail biting breath holding books I have ever read Every page I was gripped waiting for the next development a resolution anything Amazing gripping writing such an engaging book The subject matter may be difficult at times but it deals with topics that are by there very nature intense and cannot and should not be sugar coatedFinally I could not help but make comparisons between this book and To Kill A Mockingbird My reasons might be a bit spoilerish but if you have read it I hope you know what I am getting at and I will be interested to see if you feel the sameIn summary Native Son is a powerful and difficult book dealing directly and bravely with social issues from the 1940s that are still relevant today Considering the nature of the book it may not be for everyone but I think that everyone can benefit from the message

  3. Rowena Rowena says:

    “These were the rhythms of his life indifference and violence; periods of abstract brooding and periods of intense desire; moments of silence and moments of anger—like water ebbing and flowing from the tug of a far away invisible force Being this way was a need of his as deep as eating He was like a strange plant blooming in the day and wilting at night; but the sun that made it bloom and the cold darkness that made it wilt were never seen It was his own sun and darkness a private and personal sun and darkness” Richard Wright Native Son This story is still heavily on my mind I think if I’d read it earlier I would have reacted to it differently There is so much going on it has been hard for me to write a coherent review but I feel compelled to write down some of my thoughts regardless of how disjointed they may be The story starts off with a poor black family trying to kill a rat in their apartment it reeks of poverty from the start and uickly materializes into showing us the dark side of racist American society It introduces us to our protagonist Bigger Thomas who I’d heard of even before I read this book; I knew that he had accidentally killed a white girl and then killed a black girl to cover his crime I’d even read James Baldwin’s literary criticism of this book but there was to this story than that Had I known I wouldn’t have stayed away from this novel for this longThe mind numbing lives black people had to live was clearly illustrated from the start The drugs alcohol women pool playing cheap movies religionall were seen as ways to not think about what was going on around them As Bigger said “He knew that the moment he allowed himself to feel to its fullness how they lived the shame and misery of their lives he would be swept out of himself with fear and despair”My feelings about the book were in part influenced by the current civil rights movement in the States If that hadn't been going on the book would still have been horrific but with it it was even visceral It would have been satisfying to have finished reading the book and said Thank God all that crazy racism stuff is over but watch the news on any given day and you know it's alive and wellI was fascinated by how the whites and blacks interacted In the book we have a rich white family the Dalton’s who are actually the good guys but even they had a problematic way of looking at and dealing with the blacks they purported to be helping They made them appear so simplistic almost like children On the other hand Mary the daughter did not really understand that her being overly friendly to Bigger or inviting him to eat with her was actually making him uncomfortable and could cause serious repercussions for him In her privileged position she failed to have much empathy or understanding for Bigger I saw Mary and her boyfriend Jan as behaving like old school anthropologists going to observe blacks “in their natural habitat” as it were Their actions were very voyeuristic and I could understand Bigger’s rage at their behaviour The psychological aspects of race and poverty is not something they understood coming from privileged backgrounds There was the lack of privacy the poor had the fact that their lives were so clearly on display and that they had little to no control over their lives that made Jan and Mary's actions particularly degradingTo be honest this book scared me It scared me because it showed that you can have groups of people living in close proximity yet not knowing anything about each other instead holding on to an alien image of the other“To Bigger and his kind white people were not really people; they were a sort of great natural force like a stormy sky looming overhead or like a deep swirling river stretching suddenly at one’s feet in the dark As long as he and his black folks did not go beyond certain limits there was no need to fear that white force But whether they feared it or not each and every day of their lives they lived with it; even when words did not sound its name they acknowledged its reality As long as they lived here in this prescribed corner of the city they paid mute tribute to it”It scared me because people are treated according to their race and like it or not recent events have shown this It scared me that the coloured body can be exploited even in death Poor Bessie she said “I just work I ain’t had no happiness no nothing I just work I’m black and I work and don’t bother nobody” Probably the cry of so many at the time And to make matters even worse in death her body is exploited What made her death even sadder and tragic was this “Though he had killed a black girl and a white girl he knew that it would be for the death of the white girl that he would be punished The black girl was merely “evidence”The media whipping people into a frenzy not just with race but with Islamophobia is happening now just as it happened back then “Several hundred Negroes resembling Bigger Thomas were rounded up” Like the panelist at a Black History Month event I attended this week said regarding his having been stopped by the Vancouver police who said he fitted a description of a black man wanted for robbery “You mean a black man between 5’ 2” and 7’ 3?”This book showed me the impact of racism in an even profound way than in other books I've readI don't think I will ever forget it

  4. Brina Brina says:

    Updating my shelves I read this in high school for a book report Being that I'm from the Chicago suburbs originally this was one of my first exposures to life in another part of the city and I found the book to be fascinating It would be interesting to reread it through adult eyes

  5. Samadrita Samadrita says:

    One has got to appreciate the diplomatic mincing of words that graces the GR blurb Set in Chicago in the 1930s Wright's powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America A distinctly innocuous 'what it means to be black in America' is a nice little euphemism for 'institutionalized racism' or terminology like 'white supremacist capitalist patriarchy' which are too confrontational too accusatory too ominous sounding That America continues to practice a similar form of conscious prevarication to avoid facing the true sordidness of its race problem is in some small way responsible for this book's enduring relevance America is still bowed under the weight of its real Bigger Thomas es and their collective existential agony otherwise Travyon Martin Michael Brown and Eric Garner would perhaps still be alive What the book blurb avoids spelling out is that to be black in America is to follow a trajectory of limited self improvement or slow and gradual decline carved out for one by malevolent mysterious forces way beyond one's control To be deprived of an agency to have one's freedom of movement thought and speech so severely restricted that the only way for a working class black man to make his presence felt in the world is by accidentally killing a rich white girl one whose coveted sexuality and beauty are treated as valuable objects in the ownership of the white supremacist capitalist patriarch Half the time I feel like I'm on the outside of the world peeping in through a knothole in the fence Bigger Thomas embraces an absurd world and finds meaning in an otherwise futile existence only by committing accidental murder and finding a sense of accomplishment in that act but unlike Camus's Meursault the source of his private angst and indifference in the face of persecution is situated within a realm in which Jim Crow laws reign supreme It was the first full act of his life; it was the most meaningful exciting and stirring thing that had ever happened to him He accepted it because it made him free gave him the possibility of choice of action the opportunity to act and to feel that his actions carried weight No other work has brought back memories of 'The Wire' which has got to be the best thing ever made for television viewing as acutely as 'Native Son' and Ta Nehisi Coates' powerful diatribe against the systematic destruction of 'black bodies' in contemporary America Between the World and Me because both books and tv show explicate the heart breaking conseuences of social injustice in its many macabre avatars and the trickle down effect of public policy aimed at preserving the noxious but brittle status uo And yet the discerning will not fail to notice that I have rated this work 4 stars despite my limitless love for The Wire This is majorly owing to the fact that Wright much like Camus in The Stranger seeks to rationalize a crimes simply to propound a philosophy The murdered women especially Bessie Mears are relegated to the status of lifeless plot devices whose purpose is merely to flesh out Bigger's fear of and anger at a world in which he is perpetually treated as a pariah Silly white entitled ignorant Mary Dalton is as much objectified by Bigger and his friends as by the self righteously outraged white community which treats her murder as an event of communal humiliation Her personhood life socialist inclinations and opinions are eventually subsumed by the color of her skin and its implied political symbolism That Bessie as a black woman is a doubly marginalized victim who suffers a two pronged form of oppression perpetrated both by an essentially racist social order and black men who find an amoral form of self expression through inflicting some kind of violence on the vulnerable is also never acknowledged by the narrative Not that I uestion Richard Wright's right to place black masculinity in the foreground of his novel but he achieves his narrative aim at the expense of overlooking the gravity of the hardships and everyday violence that black women endure Camus displays a similar thoughtlessness while portraying the accidental murder of a nameless 'Arab' simply so that Meursault could have an epiphany and make peace with his absurd life and imminent execution Either scenario does not sit well with me After all it is usually the women and people of color who are robbed of even the minimal glory of true victimhood in literature

  6. Fabian Fabian says:

    SPOILERS Reading the first 2 parts of Native Son Richard Wright's landmark novel is an absolute thrill One part Tom Ripley one part Graham Greene's Brighton Rock the antihero always reigns triumphant But this antihero lacks panache intelligence even perhaps a conscience all the character traits of a true villain So he's somewhere in between The crimes committed by the much studied much written about Bigger Thomas are heinous The character study is super taut and intense Fear Flight parts 1 2 are absolutely perfectThen the bloody politics come in The tide tone turns radically and inexplicably The Third and longest part of Native Son aptly called Fate seems like a purgatory teeming with bo oh ring solilouies and lawyer sways The courtroom drama I do not particularly like think the 600 pages of Bonfire of the Vanities and that is why Native Son loses some points on its journey to reach almost perfection But the failure seems too great after all's said and done The social commentary becomes real and the magic of parts I and II disappears as everything becomes too obvious Everything that came before which is interesting to dissect discuss is pretty much eradicated by the sentimentalism that pops up at the end in this otherwise raw and unsentimental novel

  7. Aubrey Aubrey says:

    Have you heard the name Trayvon Martin? If you have good If you haven’t look him up Open a tab search up the name T R A Y V O N etc and read Familiarize yourself with the exact definitions of the atrocity the scope of the repercussions throughout the US the up and currently running process of rectification that in a fair and just world would not be as excruciatingly slow and painful as it’s turning out to be In a fair and just world he would not be one of countless mown down for everything but a valid reasonThis is not a fair and just worldNo this is a world where we have those who profess to be not only good writers deserving of literary rewards but good teachers of writing to boot despite bigoting their scope of literature down to the basic principle of whom they identify with based on parameters such as gender sexuality and color of skinDo you know what that sort of mentality would leave me reading this book? Do you know which character I was expected to perfectly align with the one most feasible for the goal of sewing myself up in the skin and riding around in perfect harmony? The young white girl so filled with highflown aspirations of social justice so loaded with easy income so filthy with white privilege who is suffocated and mutilated and burned up into a few fragments of bone and a single earringTell me then oh wise teacher keeper of books and innate sense of good literature white middle aged heterosexual the banality of character the default of personalization the one archetype for whom nearly the whole of literature has been customized for and has never known what it means to eke out an empathetic terrain on the basis of understanding not physicality Even here in this book written by a black man you have an overwhelming majority in terms of representation what with your Buckley your Max your multitudes of Klu Klux Klan and crowds and judges all in a big fat white male world While I have a single soul a Mary Dalton What the fuck am I supposed to do with her this small pretty idiot girl who knows nothing of the agony she is sustained by and thinks herself kind and generous by reaching out to those her very skin tone persecutes and compromising their existence with a single moment of stupidly inane trust? What am I supposed to do with this pompously fulfilled imbecile this suicidally naïve prat who innocently frames her words out of what she perceives as an intention of kindness treating the other as an animal when she notices their plight and accessory ensuring her comfortable existence when she returns to her natural state of self righteous ignorance?For you know teacher in spite of all that deficiencies on her part there is a case to be made when it comes to the casual abuse and even casual conformation of mind and soul of countless women in the history of both reality and literature Saintly virgin blighted whore girlfriend in a refrigerator all objects used with unconscious persistence of augmenting the male reality the male realization the male point of view You may not know teacher with your blatant refusal to even consider reading literature on the other side of the curtain of your all too male sensibilities but that is not how woman are That is not how I am and as such it would be all too easy to resonate with Bessie and Mary above all others young women there and gone in a swift spending of their use in the pursuit of a story of a young and violent manTell me in light of that should I hate Bigger Thomas? Should I spit on him and his indomitable pride of living one that will not be blinded to the misery of him and his people no matter how much they beg and plead? Should I ignore his anger his shame his fearful panic in the face of living cut and dried at every second every year every century that his ancestors were first wrenched away from their homeland and have suffered in inhuman bondage ever since? Should I withhold my empathy for someone who looks the reality of his existence in the face dregging out his life in a country that rapes him into a corner and sees that as the way it ought to be? Should I refuse to recognize the effects of a neverending amputation of the self’s expression onto the wider plane of life and living the horrible conseuences that can and will result so long as oppression stamps its broken and bloody way across ethics and humanity?Should I close my ears to the integrity of Max the manipulation of Buckley not chase the slightest bit of critical analysis of the two and their diatribes all because I cannot relate in terms of simple physicality? Above all should I have not even embarked on this book written by Richard Wright because somehow I ‘knew’ that I wouldn’t relate because of the differences the author and I have in terms of skin and gender? Tell me teacher although it’s unlikely you would ever deserve the title no matter how much writing you did Would you have me stuff myself into a box that will cradle me with familiar blindness forever? Would you have me tie myself down to the identity of someone like poor Mary Dalton the little fool and rightfully suffer for it? For I will never know what it means on a visceral level to be black male and in the United States pushed past the farthest boundaries of humanity by centuries of systematic oppression of an entire people into a barren void where right and wrong sueak along with the voices of ghosts But I do know how to read as well as listen I do know how to write as well as think I do know in the fundamental ache of my self what it means to be a human being Do you know that last one teacher? I doubt it

  8. Michael Michael says:

    A gripping naturalist novel delving into the psychological toll of racism on Black interiority There’s so much to critiue about the work from its misogyny to its clunky structure but its influence and forceful condemnation of white supremacy make it still worth reading

  9. Brian Brian says:

    Maybe it's the inevitable melancholy of getting older but reading this novel for the second time roughly 13 years after the first go has made me tremendously sad and despairingI would like to think the country is so much different 70 years after its publication but is it?

  10. Peter Peter says:

    What a powerful book In narrative theme character and motifs Wright uses his whole arsenal to show us the horrors of racism He seems to be able to reflect back the experience of racism—how it's created and it's cycle of destruction I've read other Black writers before but this book is probably the one that has taken on and embodied racism so than any other book for me For a novel written in 1940 the book holds up uite well Unfortunately while our nation has made progress especially some legal and institutional progress this book and the picture it paints is still uite relevant today The book is very accessible Wright's prose while rhythmic and artful is uite straightforward and easy to read I can't recommend this book enough and not just as a means to understand racism from angles shine a light on our own behaviors but also as a gripping literary thriller that has stood the test of time Put it on your to read list Movie adaptation comment belowUpdate April 8th 2019 Last night I watched the excellent adaptation of Native Son on HBO While not strictly true to the source material especially in some sections and lacking in some ways that made the book exceptionally powerful I would still recommend watching the movie of the same name I won't say much because this isn't a movie review and I want to be careful of spoilers which I know is something people care deeply about If you've read the book the only thing to spoil is how the adaptation deviates from the source material I won't say any on that topic

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