Category Archives: Native Son

Goodbye, Native Son

Native Son

The three of us at “A Classic Case of Madness” have finished Native Son.  We wrapped up over frozen yogurt, using hushed voices.  Native Son is not rated “G”, and we didn’t want to cause difficulties for the young families at the yogurt shop.  “Mommy, did you hear those ladies talking about stuffing someone in a furnace?”

If you have finished Wright’s work, you may…

1.  Take a break and read something a little lighter like the newspaper.  Oh, wait.  Maybe not.
2. Snag a copy of this movie version and let us know what you think. Oprah plays Mrs. Thomas, and Elizabeth McGovern of Downton Abbey fame is Mary Dalton.
3. Take the Sparknotes’ quiz.  Is number nineteen correct?
4. Search for our next book: Camus’ The Stranger.

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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Native Son



Heavy Laden

Are these daily literary connection posts feeling burdensome?  That’s what I was going for, all in order to lead up to this last one.


You remember them from Pilgrim’s Progress, right? Now I realize not every single use of the word burden is a direct reference to Bunyan’s work.  But it wasn’t just the word.  It was the picture of Bigger lugging the trunk containing Mary’s body and the freedom he experienced when discovering a way to unload it.  He later uses the word in his description.

. . . now that he had killed Mary he felt a lessening of tension in his muscles; he had shed an invisible burden he had long carried.

His mother also has a burden, a “heavy and delicately balanced” one that she “did not want to assume by disturbing it one whit.”

Maybe I’ve just felt too great of a burden in finding literary connections to assume that Richard Wright was harkening back to Paul, er I mean John Bunyan (although, do you think there are any connections between Bigger, and the north’s massive lumberjack?)  I think they’re legit, though.  Were there others?

I don’t want you to feel burdened to answer, but . . .


Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Native Son, Pilgrim's Progress


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Role Models

I’ve got more literary connections for you.  There’s no stopping me now.

Do you remember over a year ago back in Crime and Punishment when Raskolnikov had that weird little power trip and bonded with the idea of Napoleon?  Here’s a refresher quote:

“Yes, that’s what it was! I wanted to become a Napoleon, that is why I killed her…. Do you understand now?”

Like Sonia, I don’t really understand, but that’s not the point right now.  The point is that Bigger had similar thoughts.

Of late he had liked to hear tell of men who could rule others, for in actions such as these he felt that there was a way to escape from this tight morass of fear and shame that sapped at the base of his life.  He liked to hear of how Japan was conquering China; of how Hitler was running the Jews to the ground; of how Mussolini was invading Spain.  He was not concerned with whether these acts were right or wrong’ they simply appealed to him as possible avenues of escape.

Wait a minute.  Maybe Sonia should get herself a copy of Native Son.  Maybe that would help.

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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Crime and Punishment, Native Son


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I had so much fun finding yesterday’s literary connection that I found one, or two, or maybe three more.

Today’s is brought to you by Charlotte Brontë.  I know, not your first guess of authors to be buddying up to Richard Wright, but here it is:

Then their eyes were riveted; a slate-colored pigeon swooped down to the middle of the steel car tracks and began strutting to and fro with ruffled feathers, its fat neck bobbing with regal pride.  A street car rumbled forward and the pigeon rose swiftly through the air on wings stretched so taut and sheer that Bigger could see the gold of the sun through their translucent tips.  He tilted his head and watched the slate-colored bird flap and wheel out of sight over the edge of a high roof.
“Now, if I could only do that,” Bigger said . . .

Doesn’t that sound like our good friend Jane Eyre?  Okay, fine, Jane was adamant that she was not a bird.

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.

But I’m pretty sure both of them were going for that whole “free flying” thing, so I’m still counting it on my list of connections.  Oh, and here’s an interesting essay about the bird imagery in Jane Eyre if your own wings want to carry you back to the good old days of pleasant reads.

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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Jane Eyre, Native Son


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No hope

Book III

Bigger Thomas has been sentences to death.
He sends Max away.

He felt Max’s hand on his arm; then it left.  He heard the steel door clang shut and he knew that he was alone.  He did not stir; he lay still, feeling that by being still he would stave off feeling and thinking, and that was what he wanted above all right now.  Slowly, his body relaxed.  In the darkness and silence he turned over on his back and crossed his hands upon his chest.  His lips moved in a whimper of despair. (Perennial Library Copy pg. 379)

Not feeling.
Not thinking.
On his back.
Arms crossed.
Is Bigger preparing himself for the coffin?

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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Native Son


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Another want

Book IIINative Son

Wright’s been kind and told us what his main character wants.  Here’s another instance:

Over and over he had tried to create a world to live in, and over and over he had failed.

Bigger wants a world to live in.

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Posted by on September 15, 2013 in Native Son


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Where’s Bessie?

If Wright’s word-picture of Bessie’s murder wasn’t graphic enough, in Book III, Detective Buckley brings her mangled body back into the story.  We learn that she wasn’t dead when Bigger tossed her down the airshaft; she froze to death trying to escape.


It isn’t just Buckley that brings Bessie back into the story.  The prosecution actually put her body on display in the courtroom as evidence.  It’s almost unbelievable that this would happen.  Can you imagine a corpse labeled “exhibit A”?


They were bringing Bessie’s body in now to make the white men and women feel that nothing short of a quick blotting out of his life would make the city safe again.  They were using his having killed Bessie to kill him for his having killed Mary, to cast him in a light that would sanction any action taken to destroy him.

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Posted by on September 13, 2013 in Native Son


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Like in the Movies

Does the end of Book II scream “Made for the Big Screen!” to you?  Native Son movie

Bigger hearing the sirens and making his way to the roof top…

Bigger telling himself he wants to die without shame…

Bigger belting the man’s head with the barrel of his gun…

Bigger running across rooftops and climbing the water tank…

Bigger tossing the tear gas canister off the tank…

Bigger knocked off the water tank by the force of the fire house.

Bigger being dragged down the stairs…

Bigger passing out…

The last pages of the novel are just right for an action-packed movie sequence.

Have any of you watched a cinematic retelling of Wright’s story?

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Posted by on September 11, 2013 in Native Son


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Book IINative Son

It’s always nice when a classic author gives us the answers to few wrap-up questions.

“What does the central character want?”  (WEM pg. 73)

He did not want to sit on a bench and sing, or lie in a corner and sleep.  It was when he read the newspapers or magazines, went to the movies, or walked along the streets with crowds, that he felt what he wanted: to merge himself with others and be a part of this world, to lose himself in it so he could find himself, to be allowed a chance to live like others, even though he was black.

What is standing in his way?

… he was black.

And what strategy does he pursue in order to overcome this block?

He had committed murder twice and had created a new world for himself.

The Native Son quotes come from page 227 of my Perennial Library copy.


Posted by on September 8, 2013 in Native Son


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The furnace

Book II

It was the furnace that gave Bigger away.  Even before the bone fragments and earring were revealed in the ashes, the furnace whispered of the crime.  It breathed, hummed and roared of the body it contained.

Did you notice how Wright used the furnace to give Mary a voice?  In Bigger’s mind the furnace proclaimed the crime before the “real evidence” was ever found.

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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Native Son


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