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Native Son Paperback – September 1, 1998
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The best thing one can take away from this story is an appreciation for empathy and feelings other than our own. Though it is easy to jump to the conclusion that Bigger is an evil man, if you take the time to think and really read between the lines you actually can actively understand the actions which he takes throughout the story and feel a connection with him until the very end. This gift of empathy is would I would argue is Wright’s most amazing result from this story. All in all there is a lot to be learned from reading Native Son and not only does it teach about a historical period of time, but it wraps the piece of historical fiction nicely into a novel, a medium accessible to a wide variety of audiences.
I highly recommend this thrilling expose.
Quite apart from all the sociological and psychological insights, the novel itself is a gripping ride that just does not let up on the tension until the court scene, the long speeches and the epiphanies of the protagonist near the end that slow things down somewhat.
Overall, a worthy read.
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).
Most recent customer reviews
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