Great authors use characterization to develop a message. In Richard Wright’s Native Son, Bigger Thomas, a young black male living in Chicago during the 1930s, depicts how growing up in poverty around crime can affect one’s well-being. Bigger went to court for murdering and raping a young white woman, Mary Dalton. The murder of Mary Dalton happened accidentally while Bigger tried to keep Mary quiet when her mother entered the room. Bigger knew that he would automatically receive consequences for being in a drunk white girl’s room late at night if he got caught.
In fear, Bigger accidentally smothered Mary with a pillow in hopes to keep her from saying anything about him in her room. The disposal of Mary’s body shows all of Bigger’s built up anger and frustration that he felt his whole entire life. Dragging Mary’s lifeless body downstairs to the furnace, Bigger decides what he has to. Bigger believes that if he disposes her body in a fire, all evidence will become destroyed. Bigger finally feels a sense of power after doing such an unspoken thing. The oppression that Bigger experienced from white people led to such a violent act.
Bigger felt as if he did not have as many opportunities as a white man naturally had. Bigger finally getting a job at the Dalton’s house seemed like a step-up in his world, but it did not satisfy him enough. Bigger wanted to feel something, such as making a difference in his world, good or bad. Many Bigger’s exist in society due to the feeling of not living up to society’s expectations. In Bigger’s life, society taught to feel resentment towards black people since their color of their skin led to the lack of opportunities that would provide them a good sense of well-being.
One day at a bus stop, Bigger and his friend, Gus, mock white people’s actions and the endless opportunities that they have compared to black people. Bigger explains to Gus that “everytime I get to thinking about me being black and they being white, me being here and they being there, I feel like something awful’s going to happen to me” (Wright, 20). Just from living life as Bigger knew it, he could tell his fate was not going to end positively, due to the color of his skin.
Forced to feel guilty for his race, Bigger grew up feeling resentment towards himself and his people, leading him down a bad path of committing violent actions. Bigger felt that it “was much easier and safer to rob their own people, for they knew that white policemen never really searched diligently for Negroes who committed crimes against other Negroes” (Wright, 14). Bigger viewed robbing other black people as acceptable in result of the lack of care from the police, making crime seem morally okay.
In his family’s one bedroom apartment on the Southside of Chicago, Bigger realizes how poor his family lives after seeing how nice The Dalton’s live. Bigger does not understand why his family lives such a bad life but he believes they do because “none of them in their lives had never done anything, right or wrong, that mattered much” (Wright, 105). Bigger’s mom worked as hard as she could in order to provide for the family but she did not have the opportunity to give all three of her kids a better life. Many white people were reluctant to hire a black person for work due to the bad reputation society gave them.
Society should have taken the blame for the oppression many black families went through since they were the reason black families did not succeed as well as they could have. Bigger believed that maybe he could live a better life if he did something good or bad in that raised people’s attention. The way society taught Bigger to feel inferior because of his skin color led to him having self-doubt. The lack of empathy white people had for black people led to Bigger’s resentment insecurity of his race. Bigger’s hatred of other people controlling him forms as he realizes how much power white people hold.
Bigger viewed white people as “not really people; they were sort of a great natural force, like a stormy sky looming overhead, or like a deep swirling river stretching suddenly at one’s feet in the dark” (Wright, 114). White people had every single opportunity available to the world and also had the ability of controlling their life and others. Feeling that white people “ruled him, even when they were far away and not thinking of him, ruled by conditioning him in his relations to his own people”, led to Bigger’s murder of Mary Dalton in order to prove his capability of having power himself (Wright, 115).
Bigger yearned for the feeling of power, since he had been deprived of it his whole life. Even after Bigger’s murder of Mary, white people still wanted to control black people and make them feel fearful. Bigger felt that “they were determined to put him to death, but they were determined to make his death mean more than a mere punishment; that they regarded him as a figment of that black world which they feared and were anxious to keep under control” (Wright, 276). Feeling that the world viewed his crime as important, white people became fearful that they were losing control over black people and their actions.
Even though Bigger thought he finally had control over his own life after killing Mary, white people still had the power of deciding whether or not he lived. Bigger’s deprivation of feeling lack of control that suffered from led to Bigger wanting to take the matter of his life into his own hands. The murder of Mary Dalton made Bigger feel a sense of purpose and confidence. He felt as if he finally had control over himself and others. Bigger’s “hidden meaning of his life– a meaning of which others did not see and which he had always tried to hide– had spilled out” after killing Mary (Wright, 106).
Knowing that his life was meant to lead towards crime and murder, Bigger finally felt content with his life. After killing an innocent white girl in the very own house of her family’s without them noticing, he felt power lift from his shoulders and unstoppable. Feeling like he accomplished what no other black man has, “elation filled him” (Wright, 107). Surprised and shocked that the Dalton’s had not discovered Mary’s body in the furnace, “like a man reborn, he wanted to test and taste each thing now to see how it went; like a man risen up well from a long illness, he felt deep and wayward whims” (Wright, 111).
Mary’s murder made Bigger realize how capable he was in controlling his own life. Bigger’s newly found sense of confidence shows how deprived of it he has been his whole life, due to white people. Bigger’s violent disposal of Mary’s body had let all of his anger and frustration about his life out, leading him to no longer feel those things. No matter how much white people “laughed at him for his being black and clownlike, he could not look him in the eyes and feel angry”, now that he knew a secret that they did not (Wright, 150). Bigger no longer cared about his race now that he finally felt powerful.
Once he had murdered Mary, “the feeling of being always enclosed in a stifling embrace of an invisible force had gone from him” (Wright, 150). Knowing that he could possibly get away with murdering a white girl made him feel like he had complete control over his life and the Dalton’s life as well. Bigger’s major and violent crime had made him feel more valuable than he ever did because he held power over his own life. In today’s modern society, different racial groups still experience discrimination today, similar to what Bigger went through. Children are not born racist; they are simply taught to think that way.
Humans conceive racism as “a set of institutional conditions of group inequality and an ideology of racial domination, in which the latter is characterized by a set of beliefs holding that subordinate racial group is biologically or culturally inferior” (Wilson, 319). Racism holds the power to make a racial group feel inferior to the rest of society, similar to the kind that Bigger suffered. Many african american students in school today suffer from feeling like no matter how they try in succeeding in school, their hard work will not pay off due to the majority of white students getting picked for scholarships.
Many black students go into school with low expectations due to “the belief that academic achievement is the sole purview of whites” (Ogbu, 321). This leads black students to give up on trying to make good grades in school, which leads to not wanting to pursue a higher education. This racial discrimination can happen in workplaces as well. Many employers hire less black applicants than whites due to the stereotypes that “black workers have weaker hard and soft skills than white people” (Wilson, 321). These stereotypes that are taught to people in society lead to white people taking black people’s jobs.
Like Bigger’s mother, many black people become deprived of jobs due to not being given a chance. Racial stereotypes lead to leaving people jobless, which leads to poverty and a poor well-being. In today’s society, dominant groups still “develop and propagate ideologies that maintain and even legitimize their higher social status” (Jackman, 323). In Native Son, Wright depicts Mr. Dalton taking advantage of black people and charging them more for a dingy one bedroom apartment. Mr. Dalton strives off of black peoples poverty in Chicago, making the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Black people today still experience discrimination today in America that lead to the higher risk of poverty. In Massachusetts, Jesse Pomeroy, a fourteen year-old boy committed murders after getting bullied and not fitting in with his peers. Pomeroy had a “white film so thick and unappealing that covered the pupil” that led students and even his father to feel revolted by it (Montillo, 4). Because of Pomeroy’s eye, bigger, taller, and stronger boys at his school often targeted him. In return, Pomeroy bullied “those who were shorter, smaller, and weaker” than he was (Montillo, 4).
Like Bigger, Pomeroy was taught to hate himself due to something he could not control. Bigger was taught by society that being black was wrong, leading to resentment of himself. This self hatred of uncontrollable things led to violent acts, such as murder. Pomeroy would “befriend his victims, offer them money and treats, and accompany them to a remote location” (Montilo, 6). Pomeroy’s suffering from bullying led him to want to harm others, yearning for that control that others had over him and their ability to make them feel bad about themselves.
Bigger wanted white people to realize who they were making fun and oppressing because of his skin color. Bigger wanted to prove his capability of having power not only over himself but, other people to society. Society teaching people to hate themselves for things that cannot be fixed leads to wanting to overcome power held over them. During the 1970s, Ted Bundy, an American serial killer, fell in love with a fellow student at the University of Washington. This pretty, young woman that Bundy fell in love with, had “wealth, class, and influence”, which, he grew up without (Ramsland, 4) .
Bundy and this girl eventually went different ways, but ironically “many of his later victims resembled his college girlfriend” (Ramsland, 4). Many people would not expect somebody to kill another person who they once loved, let alone a stranger that slightly resembles them. Bundy, growing up without having a lot of money led to his deprivation him of a lot of opportunities in life. Bigger Thomas was jealous of Mary Dalton, a white and wealthy woman. Bigger did not pursue a higher education, because of the fact that he could not afford it.
Mary’s father indirectly controlled Bigger’s life by renting out apartments to black families for a higher price than he charged white people. Bigger and his family’s lack of money needed to survive led to his deprivation of life opportunities. Mr. Dalton made Bigger’s family live a stressful life, living in a run-down one room apartment and charging way more than he should have. The price of these apartments are what led Bigger’s mother to beg him to look for a job, since she could not pay the high rent every month.
When Bigger first met Mary, he was in her huge house, with her fancy cars and very item he ever dreamed of having. The moment that Bigger met Mary, he hated her. Bigger felt resentment towards Mary because of her easy life and oblivion to how good of a life she had. Bigger hated her mainly because she was white, and he knew she had control over him. Bundy took his anger out of the heartbreak over girls who reminded him of his previous girlfriend. Bigger finally felt a sense of power after killing Mary, because she had everything and he did not. After killing Mary, Bigger wondered “if it were possible that all of the people in the world had felt alike” (Wright, 426).
Bigger did not realize that just because of his life situation, he held the same ability to commit murder as much as a white person did. After Bigger killed a white girl, he knew he was capable of killing anyone. Bundy killed numerous girls after he realized the power that he held within. Ted Bundy is an example of a Bigger, murdering out of jealousy and wanting to feel power over victims. Wright created Bigger Thomas to symbolize the oppression that many people of color face. Bigger’s violence can exist in today’s modern society due to the morals that society teaches, self-hate, and lack of control.
Society taught Bigger to feel guilty for his existence just because of his skin color, which he could not control. Bigger’s realization of how much power white people had over him led to him feeling powerless and unable to receive the same opportunities as him. Once Bigger realized that he held the same ability to murder someone as white people did, he became confident. Society’s neglect leads to people having violent thoughts and wanting to take control of other people. Wright wrote Native Son to educate people on how poorly they can treat others without realizing what they are doing.