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This book isn't included in the recognized list of Best Sellers for 1940, the year it was first published. Among that year's more memorable titles: Grapes of Wrath, Mrs. Miniver and For Whom The Bell Tolls. Native Son is missing.
It's omission is quite strange, because at the time, its impact was stunning. Native Son caused a huge sensation that went far, far beyond literary circles. One reason: it was written by a Negro. The New Yorker magazine claims,"Nobody in America had ever before told a story like this, and had it published. In three weeks, the book sold two hundred and fifteen thousand copies." If I had reviewed this book in 1940--I would have given it a 5-star rating, no question.
This is perhaps the first modern work of fiction that captures the way life was for "African Americans." Not in 1740 or 1840, but in 1940--contemporary America. Says one character: "Taken collectively, [African Americans] are not simply twelve million people; in reality they constitute a separate nation, stunted, stripped and held captive WITHIN this nation, devoid of political, economic and property rights."
This is the background for the "lurid crime story" (as pulp magazines of the era would have put it) of Bigger Thomas, a black man accused--and found guilty--of two brutal homicides. Author Richard Wright pulls no punches, here. The reader witnesses every gory detail.
Unfortunately, the author also overwrites. The book's a "tough read." Some of Bigger's inner musings are beyond his ability and weaken the book. His defence attorney's "summation" is a monologue 24 pages long. The character's name is Max, but it's really Wright speaking. The courtroom summation offered wright an opportunity to provide a scathing condemnation of America's treatment of the Negro. It's important today, too--because it remains a testament of what life and death was like if you were "coloured."
This isn't a story of the rural South. Richard Wright very consciously chose to place Bigger Thomas's life and crimes in a big northern city. There's no escape for sophisticated folks in a fashionable, forward-thinking metropolis. The only real difference? Bigger's story would have likely been shorter had it occurred in a small town in Mississippi or Alabama. In the big northern urban world in which he lived, at least Bigger Thomas got a trial.
Bonuses in this edition: Wright's essay on writing the novel, and a 12 page author's chronology.
It's been over a decade since I first read Native Son and it seemed time for a re-read. Wright's major accomplishment with this novel is that it takes the most difficult route in proving its point. Wright asks the reader to find humanity in a character who has done great wrong, uses violence to mask feeling, is filled with hate for even close friends and family and is entirely devoid of ambition--he takes the sorriest man he can find & shows us how to find the empathy that characters in the book cannot, shows us how within violent systems of oppression our lives become self-fulfilling prophecies. Wright allows the conscience of Bigger to explode with imperfections & weaknesses but gives him the character of Max to work through these things with. & so much of these things are addressed & dealt with EXCEPT for the ways all of these feelings have been taken out on the women in the novel. A lot of unnecessarily violent misogyny (especially toward the novel's primary black female character) that really mars a book that does so much in asking what kind of life one can have when they live in the shadow of violent oppression.
I read this for the first time after learning one of the artists I follow, Rashid Johnson, was doing a film adaptation (now out on HBO as of March, 2019). How had I never read this? I tried to encourage friends to read or re-read it so I could have someone to discuss t with, it would have been easier to stomach with friends, but sadly it was a solo endeavor. The line that sticks with me the most is after Bigger is put in jail and he is resisting seeing the lawyer, and he says something to the effect of "I never wanted to experience a feeling like hope ever again." What are we as a society if an individual feels so powerless that they resent the mere idea of hope? This novel remains incredibly relevant.
Excellent elucidation of the effect on a human being of being surrounded by the bounty of culture and denied it. How this can cause such hate and rage that the act of murder can become the means of self actualization if one is denied every other meaningful avenue.
"Native Son" the story of Bigger Thomas a young man who aspires to be somebody, caught in a world of ignorance, fear,and misunderstanding! Bigger is smart, talented and thinks outside the box, he won an award for a class project in which his essay was read through out the small town in which he lives, as a result he's selected to read it out loud in public, terrific right?
As things go Bigger is doing well, but instead of becoming college bound he is chosen to become a "driver" for a wealth white man and his family, because that's a good job for smart Negroes! The job is sudden and Bigger must live at the wealthy white's home, so he can be available on call at all times, so he must pack his things to move into the servants quarters of the "Big House"! Still only a teenager Bigger must learn to the rules of "white supremacy" and how to dumb it down, along with his glares at the attractive daughter of the white man, as she has no boundaries and flirts with the young black man which makes for a uncomfortable situation, because blacks are being lynched everyday in America at this time.
So our hero Bigger Thomas is lonely, away from home and living in a cell. And ultimately only a teenager who must learn his place in white America's expectation of who he should be and how he should act! The reader is given a special tour inside the mind of a young black man during the segregated era in American History and the upside expectations of white folks who assume all Negros are the same and know they are inferior, and somehow should know their place in white society just "naturally"!
The story Native Son take a turn for the worse as Bigger Thomas is invited to hang out with the attractive white girl and her progressive boyfriend who also assumes a great deal about black folks, as he speaks to Bigger about being oppressed in the white man's system of capitalism, and his lack of voting rights and unequal treatment under the law. He cool and hip and young and white and male and full of intellectual linguistics and it shows as Bigger is confused and threaten by his proximity as he constantly makes physical contact with Bigger. He smokes weed and listens to jazz music and drinks and the both of them (he and the young white girl) over indulge in their partying that night. Now it late, and Bigger is the designated driver who see them home, but this young lady is passing out drunk and needs assistance getting into the house and it's late, and now she making a sexual advance toward the young Bigger Thomas.... What? Really?.... Can you guess what is next? Bet you can't, or I think you need to read the book, because it get twisted sideways and takes turns not expected....
"Native Son" by Richard Wright is a deeply mind bending story made into a movie, on of which star's the writer Richard Wright as the lead character...
Ghettostone Publications Company has a tradition of learning about our culture and history, so of course "Native Sons" is highly recommended for book lovers of all shades, (smile)
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In order to fully understand this book, it may be necessary to talk it out with another person. Throughout this book I was appalled at certain parts, especially with how gruesome some of the words were. The storyline was a bit slow as well, but the main message of the book was important. Additionally there were also many symbols throughout the book that were hidden under the surface that were hard to interpret. As a result, I think talking about the book is crucial to one's full understanding. Most importantly, I found Max's speech at the end of the book chilling, and his words vital for humanity.
Didn't finish. Read about 2/3. Had trouble suspending disbelief -- Bigger was too smart to have made some of the criminal mistakes he made.
Richard Wright's portrayal of his main character is mesmerizing. It reveals the truth about our society both then and now. Even though this is a work of fiction the characters are real. They exist today! This is a must read for those who want to understand the blacks of the 1940's and the reasons why some lashed out as a result of being marginalized. Only a genius can touch one's psyche as Wright has done.
Despite what all the hoopla and racial politics surrounding Richard Wright in general and "Native Son" in particular, this book is an absolute page-turner and I could not put it down.
Richard Wright is brilliant! "Native Son" is sensational!
Bigger Thomas as the central character of this novel is extremely vivid, realistic. I have seen versions of him on the news. I have met elementary school versions of him in school. I struggled reading this book due to the violence, seemingly senseless violence. Avoidable violence. The author embeds possible reasons why as the story unfolds. Although Native Son is a novel, it has much to say about society in the U.S., race relations and the value of individual life. I found the Afterward-"How Bigger Was Born" by Richard Wright and the author's Chronology to be a great supplement to the novel. In my opinion this book should not be banned, but should be reserved for a senior high school or above audience.
This book was good. It was a little slow in the beginning but pulled through. There are still a few things I don't understand, like: why Bigger killed Mary Dalton in the first place. Her mother was blind, and she was drunk. In the book it states Mrs. Dalton could smell whiskey on her daughter. Why would she believe anything Mary said? Some of this book didn't make any sense.
This book has stayed with me and occasionally haunted my thoughts even more than those that I call, "My favorites." I doubt if any other book will impact me in my life the way this one did.