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Native Son (Perennial Classics) Paperback – August 2, 2005
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About the Author
Richard Wright won international renown for his powerful and visceral depiction of the black experience. He stands today alongside such African-American luminaries as Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and two of his novels, Native Son and Black Boy, are required reading in high schools and colleges across the nation. He died in 1960.
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The reviews here on this site are plenty to give you an idea of its depth and excellence. My review is about the contrast between my teen reading and my adult reading.
I remember believing that the main character, Bigger Thomas, was brilliant. An ordinary young Black man had gone into the White World, committed an unspeakable crime and gotten away with it by acting like and ordinary young Black man (or so I saw it). That is to say: I thought Bigger's humble, deferential, monosyllabic speech towards White people was all an act. I thought he purposely turned on such an act to allow him to get away with things that they figured were not within his capabilities or his skill set. I thought Bigger was absolutely brilliant. A marionette pulling the strings of White America based upon their prejudices and preconceived notions.
Fast-forward 20+ years and I see Bigger through different eyes (partially because I've read the entire book and partially because my comprehension has evolved and developed). At times he was brilliant and at times he was stone cold stupid. At times he would use the shuffling negro act to his advantage and at other times he would let his ego push him too far. It was all part of the enigma that was Bigger Thomas.
Wright created a helluva character. As an African-American male I was reading about Bigger and loathing him with every fiber of my being because he was the poorest representation of Black men. I couldn't help but think, "This Bigger Thomas is confirming the wicked stuff that White people believe about us! He's a walking affirmation of their stereotypes!" But the fact is... Bigger Thomases exist. They are largely products of their environments. We may not like them, we may have the foulest names to describe them, but they still exist. So, whereas I hated Bigger for the decisions he made and the life he lived, I can't say that Richard Wright didn't give me a jolt. He threw Bigger Thomas in our faces and said, "deal with him." I'm sure every reader deals with Bigger in his/her own way. Some may hate him as I did, some may pity him, some may applaud him and much of that may divide down racial lines or socio-economic lines; in any case we as readers had to deal with Bigger Thomas.
As for the story, Bigger Thomas was described accurately, by the author, on page 235. "Maybe he would have to go to his end just as he was, dumb driven." Had Bigger been White, Red, Brown or Yellow, man or woman, anyone with this type of "dumb" it would be predictable that his life would end in tragedy.
My only criticism was that the author supported, that only a Communist lawyer would help a man Black of Color. In real life no minorities are leaving America for any country of Communism. Nor does China, Russia or Venezuela trying to get African Americans to emigrate to their countries. However, the "Red" characters were believable and I noted their feigned concern for Bigger. Jan, didn't give a damn about Bigger. Communist only care about their agenda and nothing else.
Please don't make the mistake I made when ordering this great book. I bought Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations thinking it was Native Son. I started to read it for curiosity. I just can't stand what some pseudo lectual thinks about what the author meant. Read the book for your self and write a review that is your own.
The only reason I knocked off a star is that I find it painful to enjoy any story (book, show, movie, game) that sets up a very dramatic misunderstanding that will lead to a lot of pain and suffering, like a train crash happening in slow motion. You know what's coming very early on, and ultimately you pay for the protagist's mistake. I understand that that is the whole point of this story, but that doesn't make it any easier to swallow. This happens far too often in modern story telling (I know this was published in 1940), especially in daily television shows, where there would essentially be no episode if not for some fake drama inserted to string the viewer along. Few and far between are the stories that are still enticing without the forced, easily avoidable misunderstanding that leads to everything going wrong.
Again, it's a good book, and worth the read. In the end though there are many other good (better?) books to read (imho).