Word Count: 894In Native Son, Richard Wright introduces Bigger Thomas, a liar and athief. Wright evokes sympathy for this man despite the fact that hecommits two murders. Through the reactions of others to his actions andthrough his own reactions to what he has done, the author createscompassion in the reader towards Bigger to help convey the desperatestate of Black Americans in the 1930s.
The simplest method Wright uses to produce sympathy is the portrayal ofthe hatred and intolerance shown toward Thomas as a black criminal. This first occurs when Bigger is immediately suspected as being involvedin Mary Daltons disappearance. Mr. Britten suspects that Bigger isguilty and only ceases his attacks when Bigger casts enough suspicion onJan to convince Mr. Dalton. Britten explains, “To me, a niggers anigger” (Wright, Richard. Native Son. New York: Harper and Row, 1940.
154). Because of Biggers blackness, it is immediately assumed that heis responsible in some capacity. This assumption causes the reader tosympathize with Bigger. While only a kidnapping or possible murder arebeing investigated, once Bigger is fingered as the culprit, thenewspapers say the incident is “possibly a sex crime” (228). Elevenpages later, Wright depicts bold black headlines proclaiming a “rapist”(239) on the loose.
Wright evokes compassion for Bigger, knowing thathe is this time unjustly accused.The reader is greatly moved whenChicagos citizens direct all their racial hatred directly at Bigger. The shouts “Kill him! Lynch him! That black sonofabitch! Kill thatblack ape!” (253) immediately after his capture encourage a concern forBiggers well-being. Wright intends for the reader to extend this fearfor the safety of Bigger toward the entire black community. Thereaders sympathy is further encouraged when the reader remembers thatall this hatred has been spurred by an accident.While Bigger Thomas does many evil things, the immorality of his rolein Mary Daltons death is questionable. His hasty decision to put thepillow over Marys face is the climax of a night in which nothing hasgone right for Bigger.We feel sympathy because Bigger has been forcedinto uncomfortable positions all night.
With good intentions, Jan andMary place Bigger in situations that make him feel “a cold, dumb, andinarticulate hate” (68) for them. Wright hopes the reader will shareBiggers uneasiness. The reader struggles with Biggers task of gettingMary into her bed and is relieved when he has safely accomplished hismission. With the revelation of Marys death, Wright emphasizesBiggers future, turning Mary into the “white woman” (86) that Biggerwill be prosecuted for killing. Wright focuses full attention on thebewildered Bigger, forcing the reader to see the situation throughBiggers eyes.
He uses Biggers bewilderment to represent theconfusion and desperation of Black America. The author stresses thatBigger Thomas is a mere victim of desperation, not a perpetrator ofmalicious violence. Desperation is the characteristic Wright uses throughout the novel todraw sympathy for Bigger. A killer with a calculated plan for evadingpunishment would be viewed more negatively than Bigger, a confused youngman desperately seeking a means of escape. His first poor decisionafter Marys death is to burn her in the Dalton furnace. The vile andoutrageous course of action taken by Bigger impresses upon the readerthe complete disarray of his thoughts. Readers observe the absence ofcareful thought as Bigger jumps out the Daltons window, urinating onhimself, and as he frantically rushes from building to building,searching for shelter. However, Wright also includes actions that seemirreproachable despite Biggers state of mind.
His brutal murder ofBessie, the only character willing to help him, angers the reader. Itis at that point that Bigger seems most immoral, but Wright again showsBiggers helplessness. Wright contrasts the “insistent and demanding”(219) desire that encourages Bigger to force intercourse with Bessiewith the desperation that causes him to kill her. Even in the mostimmoral of acts, Wright finds a way to accentuate the difference betweenactions borne of depravity and those borne of desperation.. Theultimate desperation and hopeless nature of Biggers future as the bookcloses and the death sentence is imposed leaves the reader with a senseof sympathy at Biggers plight. Biggers state at the end of the novel parallels the desperation of Black Americas present and the uncertaintyof its future.Black Americans in the 1930s faced seemingly insurmountablechallenges.
Latent racism and poverty made them desperate forsolutions. Wright proves this through the life of Bigger Thomas. Hehopes that White America will realize that a only a desperate actioncould be expected under these desperate conditions. Wright says ofBigger: “Never again did he want to feel anything like hope” (315). The author suggests that all Blacks felt this way when he writes of themany families who were being persecuted during the search for Bigger.This novel is a call to the nation urging recognition of the desperateplight of Black America. Wright poignantly tells the story of theimmoral Bigger Thomas but is able to draw sympathy for what many whiteAmericans see as the typical black miscreant by clearly defining hiscommon human emotions.
Biggers desperation to protect his own life inspite of the obstacles around him makes him a brilliant representativefor Blacks in America. Wright wonders and asks the question heattributes to Bigger in the novel. “Why did he and his folks have tolive like this?” (100)