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Native Son Essay

1476 words - 6 pages

Native Son is a critically acclaimed, best-selling novel by Richard Wright (1908-1960) that tells the story of Bigger Thomas, an impoverished and uneducated black man. Bigger’s life in South Chicago (a predominantly African-American area) is miserable and he remains bitter and angry over his social condition – one that involves the constant burden of being black in a white man’s world. He is convinced that he has no control over his life and that he will never be anything more than a low-wage laborer due to his skin color. Bigger represents significant problems in America during Richard Wright’s lifetime – racism, violence, and the debasement of African-Americans. Through Bigger, Wright forces the reader to enter the mind of an oppressed Negro and to understand the effects of the demoralizing social conditions African-Americans were raised in during the early 20th century. Throughout the book, it is thoroughly established that not all of Bigger’s crimes are his fault – part of the blame for his crimes must be attributed to the fearful, hopeless existence that society has imposed on African-Americans since their birth. Through the use of numerous literary techniques, Richard Wright makes a thundering statement about race relations in the 1930s and how racism played a key role in influencing the lives and decisions of many African-Americans during this time period.

Wright uses Symbolism extensively throughout the book in order to portray how racism affected the lives and decisions of African-Americans in the pre-World War II era. These symbols are extremely effective as they open the reader to the harsh truth about race-relations in the 1930s while making him/her explore their own beliefs on the topic. The first major symbol used in the book occurs shortly after Bigger and Gus “play white” on the street. After they finish, the young hoodlums watch as a white pigeon lands on the cable car tracks, struts around, and then flies away as a street car approaches. “A slate-colored pigeon swooped down to the middle of the steel car tracks and began strutting to and fro with ruffled feathers, its fat neck bobbing with regal pride…. “Now if I could only do that,” Bigger said.” (Wright 21). The pigeon in this scene is a noteworthy symbol of race relations in the 1930s as it represents freedom and the ability to do what someone wants, when and where he wants it. This scene is important as Bigger’s longing for freedom shows us that African-Americans in those times were constantly oppressed and prevented from such basic rights. The lack of freedom symbolized by the pigeon also affects Bigger’s decisions extensively as he realizes through this incident that blacks are the only people in the town that can’t do such things. The fact that Bigger can’t help but think about this actually contributes to his actions later on as these experiences factor in to the emotions Bigger experiences when he sexually abuses (and later kills) Mary Dalton. Another key instance...

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