Free Study Guide: Native Son by Richard Wright - Free BookNotes|
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In light of Wright's critique of religion as an irrelevant and even dangerous method for dealing with the oppression of African-American people and poor people, these references must be read broadly. Wright seems to be adapting the story of Christ to the present-day circumstances of racist oppression in the United States. Anyone who stands up to the scorn of the masses is acting Christ-like. Anyone who takes on her or his shoulders the weight of other people's mistakes is Christlike. Wright seems to be calling for the kind of love of others and the sacrifice of self that the Christ figure embodies.
In Max's plea for Bigger's life, Wright places all the dominant themes of the novel. Max speaks for Bigger. He describes the overall system of race and class oppression in the United States. In combining a critique of race and class oppression, Wright complicates the issue of racism to something much larger and deeper than individual prejudice. Max describes all the institutions of power in the country, the press, the courts, the legal system, the psychiatric profession, the housing market, the entertainment industry, and other institutions as colluding in keeping people poor. For Max, race is used in the service of class oppression. The ideology of racism is useful to capitalism in Wright's theory. In order to exploit workers to the fullest extent, capitalism divides them up into racial groups and pays one group less than the other. In order to keep the workers from uniting against the owners of industry, the workers are convinced that their true enemies are other workers. In order that they never find out the contrary, they are kept strictly separate in housing, in work, and even in prison. Through the voice of the communist attorney Max, Wright critiques the larger system of oppression that he sees as having acted on people like Bigger to make them do the seemingly insane things they do.
Bigger is an inarticulate protagonist. Wright uses Max in the novel to speak
for Bigger. Bigger barely conceives of his position in society. His imprisonment
and trail take him a long way in understanding himself in relation to
his larger society, but even at the end, Bigger has not reached full self-realization.
In the last conversation he has with Max, he tries to tell Max how important
Max's words have been to him. Bigger has been denied a voice in this society.
He has not been given the education or even the basic language of self-determination,
self-assertion, and self-pride. He certainly has not been given the kind
of education Max has which would allow him to distinguish the truth of
the society from the ideology that hides that truth. Nevertheless, he
speaks in the end and he speaks a truth that Max cannot fully know. Max
is utterly disturbed by Bigger's continuing to claim that the murders
were worth all the cost. In depicting this split in perception between
Max and Bigger in the end, Wright does something very important. He avoids
casting the white as the one masterfully speaking for the brutish and
transparent African-American. In the end, the European American cannot
know the perception of the African - American because he has not had his
experience. Even so, self-realization is denied Bigger at the end, the
final tragedy of his life.
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. 09 May 2017