Bigger Thomas as Americas Native Son In the novel the Native Son, the author Richard Wright explores racism and oppression in American society. Wright skillfully merges his narrative voice into Bigger Thomas so that the reader can also feel how the pressure and racism affects the feelings, thoughts, self-image, and life of a Negro person. Bigger is a tragic product of American imperialism and exploitation in a modern world. Bigger embodies one of humankinds greatest tragedies of how mass oppression permeates all aspects of the lives of the oppressed and the oppressor, creating a world of misunderstanding, ignorance, and suffering.
The novel is loaded with a plethora of imageries of a hostile white world. Wright shows how white racism affects the behavior, feelings, and thoughts of Bigger. Everytime I think about it I feel like somebodys poking a red-hot iron down my throatWe live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we aint. They do things and we cantI feel like Im on the outside the world peeping in through a knot-hole in the fence (20). Biggers sense of constriction and of confinement is very palpable to the reader.
Wright also uses a more articulate voice to accurately describe the oppressive conditions of a Negro person. An anonymous black cellmate, a university student cries out, You make us live in such crowded conditionsthat one out of every ten of us is insaneyou dump all stale foods into the Black Belt and sell them for more than you can get anywhere elseYou tax us, but you wont build hospitalsthe schools are so crowded that they breed pervertsyou hire us last and fire us first (318).
Biggers sense of constriction by the white world is so strong that he has no doubt that something awfuls going to happen to me (21). Nowhere in this novel can the reader see a greater example of Biggers fear and sense of constriction than in the accidental death of Mary Dalton. The all-encompassing fear that the white world has bred in Bigger takes over when he is in Marys room and in danger of being discovered by Mrs. Dalton. This internalized social oppression literally forces his hands to hold the pillow over Marys face, suffocating her.
Bigger believes that a white person would assume that he was in the room to rape the white girl. Biggers violent reaction to fear is inevitable. When a person finds all outlets of expression and development either closed or severely constrained, like Biggers, violence is often the instinctive reaction to oppression. The death of Mary symbolizes a tragic consequence of the white worlds attempt to oppress another race. Fear and despair force Bigger to murder, and in the aftermath, he only feels rebellious and unremorseful. Bigger finds that the rebellion is exhilarating and liberating.
This is a false sense of liberation because the murder only incurs more anger and prejudiced feelings among the white society. In retaliation, the white society is condemning more blacks by firing them, beating them, and constricting all aspects of their lives even more. In addition, the police are hunting Bigger down as if he is some kind of vermin, while public officials and newspapers blaspheme Bigger and his Negro race as ape-likeand trouble making n——- (324). This is a vicious cycle of how the oppressed will rebel against his oppressor and how the oppressor will retaliate with a stronger blow.
No one will relent, and feelings of hate, misunderstanding, and prejudice multiply between the oppressed and oppressor. Wright also realizes how the oppressed can also become the oppressor. When Mary and Jan Erlone try to befriend Bigger, Bigger thinks that these white people having helped to put him downheld him up now to look at him and be amusedand he felt an articulate hate towards them (76). Though this misunderstanding stems from the oppression that Bigger has endured from the white world, he too becomes just as prejudiced, ignorant, and hateful.
Bigger is not receptive to their gesture of kindness. The chasm, which separates the two races, remains, and because of this division, it falsely allows one race to claim rightfulness and superiority over another race. The white world made Bigger and the mass of the Negro race suffer by confining them to the slums, denying them a proper education, and limiting all of their opportunities. Bigger is a victim of American imperialism and exploitation; the greed of the white world to modernize leads them to exploit and take advantage of the Negro people in any way possible way.
In the aftermath, Bigger and the Negro people feel lost and adrift, searching for a place for themselves in a world that is basically denied to them. Bigger is a man and a black man, for that matter, who is not able to be the breadwinner and supporter of his family. Thus, he has a negative self-image of himself, predetermined by the white society. In addition to feeling lost and adrift, Bigger feels ashamed and powerless because the white world has restricted every aspect of his life.
He is limited to menial jobs, poor education, and impoverished living conditions. The magnitude of the oppression is so strong for Bigger that he hated his family because he knew that they were suffering and that he was powerless to help them (9). Feelings of anger and despair permeate from Bigger to his family, who is also feeling the severe oppression. For example, when Bigger seems too indolent to find a job, his mother lashes out at her son, wishing that she never gave birth to him and calling him lazy and just plain dumb black crazy (7).
These cruel remarks only symbolize the feelings of anger, shame, and despair, as a mass of people suffers from oppression. White racism affects every aspect of Biggers life: his self-image, thoughts, and behavior. Racism and oppression also have very negative results. The oppressed mass has few avenues of opportunities and capabilities to express their emotions. Violence is the only outlet of expression for Bigger; it is the only way he can rebel against a society that attempts to eradicate all opportunities for a Negro person.
The white world should not be too surprised or aghast at Biggers violent actions or sheer hate for them. When someone is made to feel inferior and subhuman, he/she will retaliate with ignorance and hate; rebellion is inevitable. The white worlds social and institutional racism are so oppressive that the Negro race has lost their humanity and footing in the modern world. Wright writes a powerful novel that chronologies the Negro experience of oppression in America. Everyone in the Native Son suffers. Oppression truly does affect all aspects of the lives of the oppressed and oppressor.
However, the oppression is felt more strongly by the Negro masses, who are denied equality and made to suffer many injustices. Wright wants us to know that Bigger is a tragic responsibility of American society and culture, which are racist and tyrannical. The white world is obviously domineering and unwilling to give up power. Moreover, Bigger represents a tragedy of American modernization, of a culture that is so greedy for power and wealth that they will deny liberty to others and make them suffer at their expense.