CRITICAL COMMENTARIES

BOOK I

FEAR

Ralph Ellison declares in Shadow and Act that in Richard Wright’s fiction, the black man has a choice of one of three roles to assume: he can assume the role of passivity designed for him by the southern whites and resolve his personal conflicts through the emotional catharsis of religion; or he can strive for and establish his own middle-class society and thereby consciously or unconsciously become the white man’s accomplice in oppression; or he can reject the entire southern white ideology and assume the role of a criminal, which will inevitably erupt into physical violence. In Native Son, Bigger Thomas chooses the latter.

Bigger is an embodiment of the black revolt against the injustices of the white caste system, and his revolt takes the form of crime against the white society. Born into a society that is white, hostile, and indifferent, Bigger becomes the total embodiment of that society’s hatreds, prejudices, and resentments against the black man. Bigger is filled with hatred, shame, frustration, and resentment against himself first, his family, his friends, and, of course, against the white world that keeps him an outsider. Bigger becomes a man without a conscience, a man without hope, or love, or religion; he becomes a man without a home, without family, or even friends. In other words, Bigger becomes “no man.”

The opening scene of the novel sets the tone for the entire work; the scene is a one-room, rat-infested apartment where an alarm clock is ringing loudly. The author chooses the sound imagery, the ringing of the clock, as his first major motif; it has a jarring, electrifying effect on the reader. The clanging of the clock signals a warning; it is like a cry of death, symbolic of both literal and figurative time passing in Bigger’s life. This time (or death) motif is repeated many times in the novel and is both physically and emotionally significant to Bigger. Mrs. Thomas yells for Bigger to turn off the clock and turn on the light. Bigger would rather stay in his world of dreams. Light will reveal the poverty and squalor around him; darkness will hide it. Bigger would rather blot out reality. Later, however, we will see that Bigger must acknowledge time—and reality—and, with the passing of time, both Bigger and his mother will have to face death—Bigger, his own; Mrs. Thomas, her son’s.

Indeed, one of the major problems posed by this novel concerns death, specifically murder. Bigger, for example, has no father; he has only memories of his father’s being murdered in a racial incident in the South. He has no physical father to belong to and he has no country to which he truly belongs. The parallel is striking. Bigger’s “home” is really no home. The ghetto where he lives is a world of bleakness, of poverty, of privation, surrounded by a white society which keeps blacks always on the outside. So we get to the subtleties of murder—in how many ways has the white man “murdered” the black man? And who is ultimately responsible for retaliation? The white world is denying Bigger life; it is caging him in a ghetto. Bigger is living like a criminal, yet he has committed no crime—except that he is a black man; for that, he is sentenced to a filthy existence in the black prison of the ghetto.

In contrast to this black world is the masters’ world—the white world—where there is plenty of food, privacy, and comfort. It is a sensuous world of easy love and liquor and mattresses stuffed with dollars. It is a world of smart, privileged people. Bigger is naturally curious about the white world, this world that he cannot wholly believe exists, for he has never seen it, except at the movies. It is a fantasy world filled with everything Bigger’s world lacks. In fact, it often seems as though it were an illusion. And because Bigger is not allowed to enter this world, he becomes hostile. He is filled with shame because the white man makes him feel that he is not an equal; he is filled with fear because the white man is ready to kill him for no reason except that he’s a “nigger.” Finally he is filled with violence, especially violence,

-5-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Native Son: Notes
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Life and Background of the Author 2
  • List of Characters 3
  • Critical Commentaries 5
  • Character Analyses 18
  • Essay Topics and Review Questions 24
  • Selected Bibliography 26
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this book
  • Bookmarks
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
/ 27

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.