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Native Son Paperback – Deckle Edge, April 29, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; 1 edition (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061148504
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061148507
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (313 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Bigger Thomas is doomed, trapped in a downward spiral that will lead to arrest, prison, or death, driven by despair, frustration, poverty, and incomprehension. As a young black man in the Chicago of the '30s, he has no way out of the walls of poverty and racism that surround him, and after he murders a young white woman in a moment of panic, these walls begin to close in. There is no help for him--not from his hapless family; not from liberal do-gooders or from his well-meaning yet naive friend Jan; certainly not from the police, prosecutors, or judges. Bigger is debased, aggressive, dangerous, and a violent criminal. As such, he has no claim upon our compassion or sympathy. And yet...

A more compelling story than Native Son has not been written in the 20th century by an American writer. That is not to say that Richard Wright created a novel free of flaws, but that he wrote the first novel that successfully told the most painful and unvarnished truth about American social and class relations. As Irving Howe asserted in 1963, "The day Native Son appeared, American culture was changed forever. It made impossible a repetition of the old lies [and] brought out into the open, as no one ever had before, the hatred, fear and violence that have crippled and may yet destroy our culture."

Other books had focused on the experience of growing up black in America--including Wright's own highly successful Uncle Tom's Children, a collection of five stories that focused on the victimization of blacks who transgressed the code of racial segregation. But they suffered from what he saw as a kind of lyrical idealism, setting up sympathetic black characters in oppressive situations and evoking the reader's pity. In Native Son, Wright was aiming at something more. In Bigger, he created a character so damaged by racism and poverty, with dreams so perverted, and with human sensibilities so eroded, that he has no claim on the reader's compassion:

"I didn't want to kill," Bigger shouted. "But what I killed for, I am! It must've been pretty deep in me to make me kill! I must have felt it awful hard to murder.... What I killed for must've been good!" Bigger's voice was full of frenzied anguish. "It must have been good! When a man kills, it's for something... I didn't know I was really alive in this world until I felt things hard enough to kill for 'em. It's the truth..."
Wright's genius was that, in preventing us from feeling pity for Bigger, he forced us to confront the hopelessness, misery, and injustice of the society that gave birth to him. --Andrew Himes --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Wright's classic 1940 novel about a young African-American man who murders a white woman in 1930s Chicago is a truly remarkable literary accomplishment. Peter Francis James has never been better, bringing the character of Bigger Thomas to life in a profound and moving performance that is as touching as it is truthful. James's powerful baritone demands to be heard, captivating listeners with Wright's realistic portrayal of life in the inner city, capturing the mood of each and every scene. With moderate yet believable variations in tone and dialect for each of the characters, James ignites the collective imagination of his audience. Wright's novel is real, raw and brutally honest and James's reading follows suit. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Customer Reviews

So is told the story of Native Son's Bigger Thomas.
Dorrian A. Neeley
The end gets a little preachy and long, but overall-- this is really a great book and I think it still has meaning in today's world.
L. Millis
This book is excellent in plot, descriptive writing, resolution and the author's ability to show his character to his audience.
lou vanover

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

109 of 120 people found the following review helpful By KT8candy@aol.com on May 18, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I recently read Native Son,by Richard Wright, in my 8th grade English class while my class was reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Native Son is the shocking story of a young African American man, Bigger Thomas, living in the "black belt" of Chicago. Every second of his life he encounters the hateful separation society has put between blacks and whites. One night, caught in fear, anger and hate he commits his first murder against the daughter of his employer. Reading the two books simultaneously, I found many interesting comparisons between Native Son and To Kill a Mockingbird. They are both about the trial of a black man. In To Kill a Mockingbird the black man is innocent, however the racist town convicts him. Yet in Native Son he is guilty. Harper Lee tells her story through the point of view of a white person ( she herself is white) yet Richard Wright (a black man) tells the tale through Bigger's eyes. It is interesting to compare the two points of view, telling a similar tale through the two sides of racism. Both authors show their side of the story. Bigger's tale is told in a bigger and more dramatic way than how the whites regard the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird. Both stories portray the separation between African Americans and whites. Reading about this separation in both stories taught me a lot about this countries history. I learned about the strong hate that came between the races and the fear, anger and rage that results from it. The content of Native Son, is not always light. The hideous crimes Bigger commits are hardly small sins, but actions that effect an entire society. Wright's phenomenal writing described the hateful emotion of racism I will never understand. I found it difficult reading such horrible tales of hate, fear and anger.Read more ›
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Geoffrey Halston on February 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
A compelling read from start to finish, this book tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a black youth living in the Chicago ghetto during the 1930s. Bigger Thomas is an archtype for the experience of black youths, the black struggle in America. I have read "Sonny's Blues," "Invisible Man," but I have found this novel the most powerful of the three.
This is also a great read for the would-be fiction writer. It's all here: plot, character, setting and gripping story telling that holds you to the end.
A must read.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 23, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Before I read this novel, I was burdened with a strong ambivalence. Certain people around me who have read NATIVE SON say that it's a horrible depiction of African Americans, structuring them as callous murderers and strictly unlikable. Yet others claimed it to be a masterpiece and when it ranked as one of the top 100 English language novels of the 20th century, I decided to give it a chance. WAKE UP. That's the feel when we start the novel and as it proceeds, nothing much happens for the first several pages. We familiarize with Bigger's violent temper and reputation for being the way he is. He gets a job working for a wealthy white family, a family very charitable to Negroes. Well, even though it seems they do it mainly to unhold the kindheartedness associated with their family name, the family takes in Bigger. There's the daughter, Mary, who introduces Bigger to her boyfriend, Jan, and they are sympathetic with the Negro race. Sympathetic to the point where Bigger hates them for it. While delivering Jan drunk to her room later that night, Bigger inadvertantly smothers her with a pillow while trying to cover up her unsobriety as her blind mother enters the room, killing her. Scared, Bigger cuts off her head and throws her remains into the furnace. Brutal, yeah. I won't say what else happens next but I will tell you my overall opinion on the novel. I think it's wonderful, excellent, and a masterpiece that simply has to be read. Even though if Bigger had been a real person and I was watching his trial on television, I would have said, "Yeah, execute the man", this novel does put something into perspective that some might find disturbing to ruminate over yet will have to agree with. HATE BREEDS HATE.Read more ›
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By CharlieMae on March 7, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book could have been written this year, the tenor is very contemporary. The themes and stereotypes are as prevelent today as they were then. The strength of the writing is timeless.The setting is gritty and real, the people are knowable. I enjoyed reading it again.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on March 30, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is one of Wright's most important novels. It tells the story of the short life of Bigger Thomas, perhaps as an allegorical prototype of the typical life of a Black Chicagoan, or indeed maybe the archetype for all young black men in America, where the forces of society press upon them to live fast and die young, or live long and end up in prison or be ignored and live a social death on the outer margins of American life.

Bigger seemed to have had no redeeming qualities, and never showed any remorse, for anything he did. He had absolutely nothing going for him but bottomless hatred and bitterness towards whites and an innate ability to observe and size them up. A great deal of his life and thoughts were spent playing a double game: pretending to befriend them at the same time that he was watching their every move and stalking them as if they were prey.

One of Wright's gifts is that he allows the reader to be "ear witness" to Bigger's innermost thoughts. The dialogue is told from the point of view of what is going on in Bigger's head. He is constantly muttering his hatred and distrust of whites, both of which border on the pathological and continue increasing until they reach a crescendo, when an explosion seems imminent even when there were no obvious reasons for one. This passion for hatred and distrust eventually does spill over and comes to an ignominious climax, when Bigger rapes a white girl who has befriended him and as he is about to be caught in a her bedroom, he spares himself the need to explain or be caught red-handed, by killing her.
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