A Marxist Reading Of Native Son

4888 words - 20 pages

A Marxist Reading of Native Son

In the Communist Manifesto Karl Marx states clearly that history is a series of class struggles over the means of production. Whoever controls the means of production also controls society and is able to force their set of ideas and beliefs onto the lower class. The present dominant class ideology is, as it has been since the writing of the United States Constitution, the ideology of the upper-class, Anglo-Saxon male. Obviously, when the framers spoke of equality for all, they meant for all land-owning white men. The words of the Declaration of Independence, also written by upper-class, Anglo-American males, are clear: "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are rights necessary to each human being and should never be taken away. Governments are established to protect these rights, yet these rights do not apply to everyone, particularly to the Bigger Thomases of the world.

Although the framers of the Constitution and the authors of the Declaration of Independence could not look into the future to see the arrival of Richard Wright, his 1940 novel, Native Son, with its main character, Bigger Thomas, or the frustrated urban youths whom Bigger was patterned after, they did know their own needs. They also understood the importance of being free to attain those needs. Years later, Abraham Maslow agreed with the forefathers and gave the theory of needs a name.

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a theory of basic human needs: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. His theory suggests that embedded in the very nature of each human being are certain needs that must be attained in order for a person to be whole physically, psychologically, and emotionally. First, there are physiological needs: needs for oxygen, water, protein and other minerals. Second in Maslow's hierarchy are the safety and security needs, and the need for protection. The need for love and belonging is third and manifests in the drive to establish affectionate relationships or create a sense of community. Fourth in the hierarchy are the esteem needs, which Maslow divides into two parts: the need for the respect of others, and the need for self-respect (Boeree). The fifth and final stage in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs forms the pinnacle and is identified as self-actualization or "the desire for self-fulfillment . . . to become everything one is capable of becoming" (Green). According to Maslow's theoy, the order in which these needs appear in the hierarchy is the order in which humans must attain them. Needs higher in the hierarchy cannot be attained without first satisfying the more basic needs at the base (Boeree). When any level of these needs is not met, a deficit need is created, causing negative effects on the human psychology, a phenomenon seen in the main character of Native Son, Bigger Thomas. Maslow believes that in a "good" society each individual is free to accomplish his or her goals and move freely through the...

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