by Richard Wright
In 1930's Chicago, a troubled young black man accidentally commits murder and his life spirals out of control.
At the risk of sounding melodramatic, "chilling" and "haunting" are the first words that come to mind when I think back on listening to Native Son. The writing is harsh and staccato, capturing the intensity and impulsiveness of Bigger Thomas. He is not a character that will elicit much sympathy for himself, but his tragic story exposes a sharp knife poised at the soft underbelly of our society. Who provided the weapon and who is holding it?
While Bigger's guilt is unquestionable, the world of oppression and humiliation that produced him and others like him is also suspect. Even members of his own race and class cannot agree if he is wholly responsible for his actions. An argument between two black men overheard while Bigger is on the run illustrates this. One, believing murder is murder and needs to be punished, would turn Bigger in to the police if he saw him. The other would not, for it is essentially only a luck of the draw whether or not anyone living in their circumstances would have done the same as Bigger. The victim had it coming.
At Bigger's sentencing, the impassioned plea of his lawyer to spare Bigger's life exposes the hypocrisy of the charitable acts of some people, which readers will sorrowfully recognize still exist in current business and politics. The victim's father donates millions to help poor black people in the city, but he allows his real estate company to continue to charge black renters more money than white renters and to rent them only shabbily-kept apartments in neighborhoods designated as "black". Despite the shortage of available apartments, however bedraggled, he will not rent to them in "white" neighborhoods, stating he believes that black people are much happier living together in their own place.
I can't say I completely disagreed with the individual fate of Bigger Thomas, but the questions raised in the pages of this book will reverberate for a long time to come.
More thoughts on Native Son:
NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)
Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!