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Free Study Guide: Native Son by Richard Wright - Free BookNotes

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BOOK 1 - "Fear"



The movie also features a bomb-toting communist who tries to blow up the woman, but is foiled by the woman's lover. Bigger and Jack discuss the little they know about communists. They think it might be a "race of folks who live in Russia." Jack guesses communists must not like rich people.

In the movie, the woman is filled with remorse after the bomb attack and returns to her husband to live happily ever after. The boys wonder if people actually live like that and decide they must since they are rich. Bigger begins to feel more willing to take the job for the Daltons.

The second feature, Trader Horn, shows naked African men and women dancing wildly. While he watches the screen, Bigger decides rich white people are really not so bad. He decides it is only the poor whites who hate African-Americans because they cannot get their share of the money. He remembers hearing his mother say rich white people "liked negroes better than they did poor whites." He decides that if poor white people cannot make money, they deserve to be taken advantage of. "It was the rich white people who were smart and knew how to treat people." He remembers a story of a marriage between an African-American chauffeur and a rich white woman. Bigger decides he would be foolish to rob Blum's just before getting such a good job.

The boys leave the theatre and Bigger goes home to get his gun. At home, he hears his mother singing, "Lord, I want to be a Christian." He goes to Doc's to meet the others. His body hungers for action. Gus has not come. Bigger knows Gus will not show up. When he does arrive, Bigger brutally beats Gus, then holds a knife on him and threatens to kill him, all to avoid the robbery. The movies made him want the Dalton's job and further contact with the rich white people. He humiliates and tortures Gus.

The others leave. Bigger threatens Doc with his gun. He cuts the felt on the pool table with a knife and walks away. He walks past Blum's delicatessen and sees Blum is alone and the store is empty of customers. He feels tears on his cheeks. He goes home and sits at the window. He hears his mother doing her washing on a metal washboard. He knows his actions with his friends put an end to his being with them for any more robberies. "As long as he can remember, he had not been responsible to anyone." Whenever he has found himself in a difficult situation, he has rebelled. He has "passed his days trying to defeat or gratify powerful impulses in a world he feared." He decides to take the gun with him to the Daltons because he feels he would be safer with it. It would make him feel equal to them. At five o'clock, he gets up to leave for the Daltons.

He wonders if the Daltons will be like the white people he saw in the movie that afternoon. He goes into the white neighborhood scared and unsure of himself. He had not thought this world would be so different from his own that it would intimidate him. He cannot decide whether he is supposed to go in the front or the back door. He cannot figure out how to get to the back door, so he rings the front bell. A white woman answers the door and lets him in. He is afraid he will touch her as he passes her. He waits uncomfortably while she gets Mr. Dalton. He follows Mr. Dalton and sees the blind Mrs. Dalton, who asks him about his background. She asks how far he went in school. He responds that he went through the eighth grade. She tells Mr. Dalton that they "should evoke an immediate feeling of confidence" in Bigger. He cannot understand her. He feels "strangely blind." Only as Mrs. Dalton walks away does Bigger realize she is blind.

He talks with Mr. Dalton, who tells him he is very interested in "colored people." Bigger cannot find the relief papers in his pocket. He fumbles so much that he hates himself. "He had not raised his eyes to the level of Mr. Dalton's face once since he had been in the house. He stood with his knees slightly bent, his lips partly open, his shoulders stooped; an his eyes held a look that went only to the surface things." Bigger acts the way he feels white people want him to act. Finally he finds the paper.

Mr. Dalton notices his address and asks if he pays rent to the South Side Real Estate Company. Bigger knows that is Mr. Dalton's company. He asks how much rent Bigger pays. Bigger tells him that he pays eight dollars a week for one room. Bigger tells him that he is twenty years old. Bigger suddenly remembers his mother telling him not to look at the floor when talking to white people or when asking for a job. He lifts his eyes, but drops them immediately. Mr. Dalton asks about Bigger's record. He reassures him that he need not feel ashamed, that he, too, had once been a boy, and knows how things are. He offers Bigger a cigarette. Bigger lies and tells Mr. Dalton he did not steal when he was sent to reform school. Mr. Dalton tells him he has the job and will be paid twenty-five dollars a week, five dollars over the going rate. Bigger will live in a room at the Dalton's.

Mary Dalton enters. She asks Bigger if he belongs to a union. He does not understand why or what she is asking and he feels that she is bothering him when he is trying to get a job. He hates her. He knows nothing about unions except that they were considered bad. She sticks her tongue out at her father playfully, calls her father "Mr. Capitalist" and asks Bigger "Isn't he a capitalist?" Bigger doesn't know what the word means. Before she leaves the room, she asks her father to let Bigger drive her to her lecture at the university that night. "He had never seen anyone like her before." Mr. Dalton goes out and talks to Mary, then returns to the room and looks down at a paper in front of him. Bigger fears that Mary Dalton has ruined his chances at getting the job. He finds himself growing in anger at her. Mr. Dalton tells him he is hiring him because he is a supporter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Bigger has never heard of the organization. Mr. Dalton rings for the housekeeper, Peggy, to show Bigger to his room and explain his duties and he tells Bigger to drive Mary to the university that evening and then wait for her.

Peggy shows him to the kitchen where dinner is cooking. She tells him that the furnace will be one of his duties. Peggy gives him bacon and eggs to eat. While he eats, he thinks the job will be good except for Mary. She is not like the rich woman he saw in the movies. Peggy praises the Daltons. She tells Bigger "the last colored man who worked for us stayed ten years." He took a job with the government after he went to night school She says Mrs. Dalton is always trying to help somebody. Peggy tells him she has worked for the Daltons for twenty years. She says the Daltons have millions of dollars but do not "put on airs." She says they are all "one big family." She tells Bigger that Mr. Dalton does a lot for "your people." Bigger wonders, "My people?" Peggy says, "yes, the colored people." She tells him Mr. Dalton gave over five million dollars to African-American schools.

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