Native Son: Character Actions Defines Their Individual Essay

Personalities and Belief Systems
Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son, consisted of various main and
supporting character to deliver an effective array of
personalities and expression. Each character’s actions defines
their individual personalities and belief systems. The main
character of Native Son, Bigger Thomas has personality traits
spanning various aspect of human nature including actions
motivated by fear, quick temper, and a high degree of
intelligence.Bigger, whom the novel revolves around, portrays
various personality elements through his actions.

Many of his action suggest an overriding response to fear, which
stems from his exposure to a harsh social climate in which a clear
line between acceptable behavior for white’s and black’s exists.

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His swift anger and his destructive impulses stem from that fear
and becomes apparent in the opening scene when he fiercely attacks
a huge rat. The same murderous impulse appears when his secret
dread of the delicatessen robbery impels him to commit a vicious
assault on his friend Gus. Bigger commits both of the brutal
murders not in rage or anger, but as a reaction to fear. His
typical fear stems from being caught in the act of doing
something socially unacceptable and being the subject of
punishment. Although he later admits to Max that Mary Dalton’s
behavior toward him made him hate her, it is not that hate which
causes him to smother her to death, but a feeble attempt to evade
the detection of her mother. The fear of being caught with a
white woman overwhelmed his common sense and dictated his
actions. When he attempted to murder Bessie, his motivation came
from intense fear of the consequences of “letting” her live.

Bigger realized that he could not take Bessie with him or leave
her behind and concluded that killing her could provide her only
“merciful” end.

The emotional forces that drive Bigger are conveyed by means other
than his words. Besides reactions to fear, his actions demonstrate
an extremely quick temper and destructive impulse as an integral
part of his nature. Rage plays a key part in his basic nature,
but does not directly motivate the murders he commits. Rage does
not affect Bigger’s intelligence and quick thinking and it becomes
evident during the interview with Briton. The detective makes
Bigger so angry that the interrogation becomes a game to Bigger,
a game of logic and wills, of playing the stupid negro, and
telling the man exactly what he wants to hear. The game Bigger
plays during the interrogation shows his great intelligence and
ability to think quickly on his feet. Bigger also displayed his
intelligence in the creation of the ransom note. Using the
situation to his advantage, Bigger wrote a ransom note to extort
Mary’s parents for money. To make the note even more convincing
and to dissuade blame from himself, Bigger signs the note with the
communist symbol of a hammer and sickle.

Although the book revolves around Bigger he possesses few good
qualities, which get his horrendous actions negate, making him an
anti-hero. He possess the violent tendencies to commit rape,
extortion of the dead girls parents, robbing, and killing innocent
people. These traits do not portray a simple victim of
circumstance, but a habitual criminal acting out against a
society. While Bigger dominates the story, his appalling actions
make him a man that the reader can not look upon as a hero. In
fact the author punishes the anti-hero character by condemning him
to death for his crimes.

One of the two most sympathetic characterizations of white persons
in the novel comes from the character of Jan Erlone, Mary Dalton’s
friend. He exhibits an enthusiastic personality and represents an
idealistic young organizer for the Communist party. Mary’s
parents and their servant Peggy distrust his motives. Bigger
initially expresses a distaste for “reds” when responding to Jan’s
friendly advances during their first meeting. While receiving
distrust from those around him, Jan retains a simple belief in the
equality for all men, regardless of social class or race.

Throughout Jan’s first meeting with Bigger, he regards Bigger with
the utmost respect. During the course of the night, Jan sits in
the front of the car with Bigger, eats with him, drinks with him,
and speaks to him as an equal. Those actions of equality portray
more than a decent man, it shows that Jan’s character possesses a
strong sense of morality and honesty. Jan is also characterized
by other heroic traits, forgiveness and understanding. As an
interesting twist of fate, Jan gets Bigger an attorney, and
demonstrates that he could forgive Bigger for implicating him for
Mary’s “kidnapping”.

The second sympathetic white character, Boris A. Max, portrays the
Communist lawyer whom Jan brings to help Bigger. Max’s legal
knowledge and his mastery of tactics are constantly in evidence.

By taking Bigger’s case pro-bono, Max shows two aspects of his
nature, charity and a need to defend the oppressed. By accepting
the task of Bigger’s defense, he makes it painfully clear that his
true intent originates from a desire to protect the image of the
communist party. That passion does not adversely affect his skill
and he diligently works to protect his client from injustice. The
moment Bigger accepts Max’s offer to represent him, Max protects
his client’s interests and insists upon his rights. Max
constantly demonstrates his intelligence, in his pursuit of
justice and a fair trial for his client Bigger Thomas.

The members of the Dalton family represent the naivet? of whites
to the realities of social oppression. Mr. and Mrs. Dalton
attempt to correct their wrongs by donating to various black
charities. They create a boy’s club, donating ping pong tables
and various other impractical items. In doing so, they do not
make any personal sacrifices and basically give only minimal
personal involvement to the cause. They have not developed a
genuine understanding of the economic and social conditions of the
black people. Mr. and Mrs. Dalton are naive about their lack of
impact on the social and economic situations of the blacks that
they attempt to help. The author does not make them callous or
bigoted. Their daughter, the wild twenty-one year old Mary
Dalton, lacks the refinement of her parents. She wants to treat
others as equals, but her actions make Bigger uncomfortable and he
grows 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 the
possibility for improvement. They feel doomed to remain in the
pits of the slums. A lost outlook on life represents Bessie’s
most outstanding personality trait. Through her self-awareness
she reiterates in multiple references that she exists as a “lost”
soul. Bessie circumstances prevent her from going any farther in
her life. She briefly escapes with the use of alcohol which
Bigger provides her in exchange for “love”. An aura of death
surrounds her even before Bigger murders her. Like Bessie,
Bigger’s mother appears trapped on a one way street going nowhere.

An interesting aspect of Native Son develops from the many levels
of conflict occurring simultaneously in the book. On a
superficial level personal conflicts arise, but deeper conflicts
about race, social status, and political view points drive these
superficial conflicts. When the book opens Bigger has an argument
with 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 these
conflicts. The characters act out in rage due to stress caused by
social circumstances. Bigger’s violent temper gets him into
various conflicts with his gang, a man on the roof whom he
attacks, and the fellow who owns the pool hall.

Although these actions demonstrate acts of rage, they do not
portray the true motivation for Bigger’s actions. The cause of
Bigger personal conflicts stem his fear of repercussion for his
actions as a black in a white dominated society. His fear of the
consequences of being discovered with a drunk white woman, drive
Bigger Thomas to smother Mary Dalton. This fear arose because of
the non physical barriers, set up by society, between white and
black people. This tension made Bigger angry while he was forced
to secretly drive Jan and Mary around in the car and finally made
him snap. Like Bigger, the entire city demonstrates conflicts
based upon fear brought about by racial segregation. During the
progress of the man hunt, blacks and whites go at each others
throats. These various conflicts all stem from fear and racial
hatred. Although Richard Wright portrays the segregation of the
blacks, he does not omit the segregation of various social groups
such as the communists. In contrast, Jan and Max’s efforts to
save Bigger stem from a struggle for equality. They too feel the
constraints of oppression, but have a philosophy and social
position with which to rebel.

Frustration and hopelessness develop as major themes of the
story. When Bigger and his friend Gus watch a sky writing plane,
Bigger expresses frustration in his statement “I could fly one of
them things if I had a chance.” Discussing the impossibility of
accomplishment in the white-controlled world, Bigger expresses
hopelessness, saying, “They don’t let us do nothing.” When Gus
reminds Bigger that they have always known this, Bigger agrees,
but insists that he cannot accustom himself to it. “Every time I
think about it,” he says, “I feel like somebody’s poking a red-hot
iron down my throat.” Today a good example of the same type of
frustration can be seen on the various music videos done by black
artists. These video portray, poor education and a lack of
opportunities afforded to blacks.

Oppression, hate, and the separatism between whites and blacks
also arises as a main theme. Bigger represents the oppressed but
rebellious black, in contrast the Dalton’s represent naive whites,
and Jan and Max represent the oppressed communists. These various
characters hate each other without comprehend the underlying
social cause. Only the oppressed groups come to help and forgive
each other by the end of the novel, while the oppressors still
asking for bitter vengeance. The separatism become obvious while
Bigger when sits in the car with Mary and Jan. He feels afraid
and uncomfortable being treated like an equal and being allowed to
sit near them. This separatism also made his oppressors blindly
ignorant of the realities of social oppression. Separatism
affects both sides of the color line. The characters consider
each other as separate entities, never interacting on an equal
basis. Social ignorance allows the scapegoating of Bigger, to
vent the anger and rage built up from by many years of tension
between the races. A good example of separatism and oppression in
our area shows up in the conflicts between Whites and Cubans.

Arguments about English as the official language as the official
language of the US represent the manifestations of this conflict.

A notable theme that the author portrays through Bigger’s actions
come from the true meaning of freedom to the oppressed. Bigger’s
discovered “freedom” came to him in two instances, in both cases
while committing murder. With the death of Mary Dalton, Bigger
starts to realize that for the first time he has gone against the
law. Breaking the proverbial barrier and the proper limits of
what a black man can do in society he is no longer controlled or
restrained by another mans rules. This idea expands to note that
when Bigger himself defines the rules, he makes himself free.

Interestingly serial killers in our society have multiplied, a
common trait that they all possess is abuse in their early
lifetime. Perhaps they act out of the same misguided need for
freedom that Bigger found when committing murder.

Author’s Beliefs
Bigger, his family, and Bessie all feel the affects of separatism
and oppression. Richard Wright believes in the immorality of
oppression. He uses his book as a tool to vent his frustration,
at the world that segregates negros. His characters, themes and
conflicts probably originate from his own experience of
separatism. By using such a wide range of characters, he gives
the readers who are not black an insight into the horrifically
desperate situations many poor blacks experience.

Bigger’s actions toward Jan and Mary portray his resignation to
the social inequity of the color barrier. He acts simply, as a
subservient “yessah”. It appears the author believes the true
wall of separation between whites and blacks is an almost
impassable division.

Jan and Max base their decisions on the equality of man. Having a
moral basis for action leads them to have a means to deal with
oppression and the ability to hope. In contrast, Bigger accepts
separatism as an immutable condition, and rebels against it by
committing crimes. Bigger receives punishment for his actions.

The author would appears to support socialist concepts as the
proper rebellion against oppression. He seems to believe in the
equality of men and the value of demonstrating it in everyday


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