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

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NATIVE SON: FREE PLOT ANALYSIS / LESSON PLANS

BOOK 2 - "Flight"

Notes

Bigger's odd sense of freedom and power after his murder of Mary becomes an often-repeated idea of the novel. As a member of an ethnic group that is constantly under suspicion, Bigger is psychologically released when he lives up to the worst fears of his oppressors. He does not have to deny the charges leveled against his ethnic group every day in the paper. He does not have to live within the impossible space of correct and prescribed manners which European Americans expect out of him. He has violated their strongest taboo and is thereby--paradoxically--free of their control.


When Bigger imagines the power of fascist leaders such as Italy's Mussolini, he speculates on the benefit of having a fascist leader for African - Americans. The appeal of fascism rests perhaps in its simplicity. It has one overwhelming and unquestioned figurehead. Such a simplistic solution to deep and abiding social problems was very attractive to many people of the first decades of the twentieth century, rich and poor. Fascism is the right wing answer to social and economic problems while communism is the left wing answer. Wright obliquely proposes the latter the collective action called for by communism, in which people would act in concert to free themselves instead of relying on one leader to free them.

Richard Wright understands the complex dynamics of racism. For Wright, as for many other analysts of racism, an insidious by-product of living as an African - American in a society which constantly bombards one with racist stereotypes is the reality of internalized racism. Internalized racism happens when the hurts and condemnations of racism are turned within. People in the targeted group begin to believe the lies of the stereotypes. They believe they are bad, lowly, unworthy, and ugly and they believe the same of other members of their group. When Bigger beats Gus with overwhelming hatred and ferocity, he is acing out his internalized racism. It is as if he were trying to kill himself. When Bigger hits, rapes, kills, and then disposes of Bessie, he is acting out his internalized racism as well. However, with Bessie, Bigger is also acting out another social disease, sexism.

When Bigger has sex with Bessie the first night, before he tells her of his murder of Mary, he thinks of her as a fallow field. When Bigger thinks of Bessie on the second night, he fragments her individuality in his mind, seeing her both as the Bessie who is perfectly passive and the Bessie who is a demanding person with her own needs. He wishes he could kill the latter and completely dominate the former. When Bigger rapes Bessie, he hears her sigh in resignation, but remembers she has sighed like that many times before. It seems that the relationship has consisted of a number of more subtle rapes before Bigger openly ignores her cries of "No" to rape her the last time. Bigger does not connect her oppression as a woman to his oppression as an African - American. He does not see himself as her oppressor because he cannot grant her the same level of humanity that he sees in himself.

The plot of the novel rests on this view of women. The women Bigger kills are not granted humanity as are Jan and Bigger's male friends. Mary and Bessie are merely tools used to give Bigger access to his own humanity. His search for selfhood, his new sense of freedom, is accomplished at the expense of two women's lives.

In Book II, Wright does a thorough job of showing the operations of the United States press eagerly creating racial stereotypes. When the reporters are in the Dalton basement, they set to work reinforcing existing stereotypes. They get a small amount of information, and they immediately set to work fitting that information into the already existing stereotypes of African - Americans, Jews, foreigners, and communists. Stereotype is an old printing term. It was a name for the metal plate that was used to produce and reproduce many copies of the same image. Wright makes it clear that the stereotype precedes the incidents surrounding Bigger's crimes. The press manufactures them and then filters every story through those simplistic images.

In this novel, Wright is especially focused on an analysis of housing discrimination. Bigger sees the problems with overcrowding, price-gouging, and spatial restriction with great clarity after he has been to the Dalton's house. He understands the larger picture much better with that contrast. He feels that if he could shout out the injustice of the housing, people should hear him and rally to resist the conditions, but that they would probably instead call him crazy. Here, Wright exposes the crazy-making society which condemns the clear-sighted as insane.


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