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Essay/Term paper: Sympathy in wright's native son

Essay, term paper, research paper:  English Papers

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In Native Son, Richard Wright introduces Bigger Thomas, a liar and a

thief. Wright evokes sympathy for this man despite the fact that he

commits two murders. Through the reactions of others to his actions and

through his own reactions to what he has done, the author creates

compassion in the reader towards Bigger to help convey the desperate

state of Black Americans in the 1930"s.

The simplest method Wright uses to produce sympathy is the portrayal of

the hatred and intolerance shown toward Thomas as a black criminal.

This first occurs when Bigger is immediately suspected as being involved

in Mary Dalton"s disappearance. Mr. Britten suspects that Bigger is

guilty and only ceases his attacks when Bigger casts enough suspicion on

Jan to convince Mr. Dalton. Britten explains, "To me, a nigger"s a

nigger" (Wright, Richard. Native Son. New York: Harper and Row, 1940.

154). Because of Bigger"s blackness, it is immediately assumed that he

is responsible in some capacity. This assumption causes the reader to

sympathize with Bigger. While only a kidnapping or possible murder are

being investigated, once Bigger is fingered as the culprit, the

newspapers say the incident is "possibly a sex crime" (228). Eleven

pages later, Wright depicts bold black headlines proclaiming a "rapist"

(239) on the loose. Wright evokes compassion for Bigger, knowing that

he is this time unjustly accused. The reader is greatly moved when

Chicago"s citizens direct all their racial hatred directly at Bigger.

The shouts "Kill him! Lynch him! That black sonofabitch! Kill that

black ape!" (253) immediately after his capture encourage a concern for

Bigger"s well-being. Wright intends for the reader to extend this fear

for the safety of Bigger toward the entire black community. The

reader"s sympathy is further encouraged when the reader remembers that

all this hatred has been spurred by an accident.

While Bigger Thomas does many evil things, the immorality of his role

in Mary Dalton"s death is questionable. His hasty decision to put the

pillow over Mary"s face is the climax of a night in which nothing has

gone right for Bigger. We feel sympathy because Bigger has been forced

into uncomfortable positions all night. With good intentions, Jan and

Mary place Bigger in situations that make him feel "a cold, dumb, and

inarticulate hate" (68) for them. Wright hopes the reader will share

Bigger"s uneasiness. The reader struggles with Bigger"s task of getting

Mary into her bed and is relieved when he has safely accomplished his

mission. With the revelation of Mary"s death, Wright emphasizes

Bigger"s future, turning Mary into the "white woman" (86) that Bigger

will be prosecuted for killing. Wright focuses full attention on the

bewildered Bigger, forcing the reader to see the situation through

Bigger"s eyes. He uses Bigger"s bewilderment to represent the

confusion and desperation of Black America. The author stresses that

Bigger Thomas is a mere victim of desperation, not a perpetrator of

malicious violence.

Desperation is the characteristic Wright uses throughout the novel to

draw sympathy for Bigger. A killer with a calculated plan for evading

punishment would be viewed more negatively than Bigger, a confused young

man desperately seeking a means of escape. His first poor decision

after Mary"s death is to burn her in the Dalton furnace. The vile and

outrageous course of action taken by Bigger impresses upon the reader

the complete disarray of his thoughts. Readers observe the absence of

careful thought as Bigger jumps out the Dalton"s window, urinating on

himself, and as he frantically rushes from building to building,

searching for shelter. However, Wright also includes actions that seem

irreproachable despite Bigger"s state of mind. His brutal murder of

Bessie, the only character willing to help him, angers the reader. It

is at that point that Bigger seems most immoral, but Wright again shows

Bigger"s helplessness. Wright contrasts the "insistent and demanding"

(219) desire that encourages Bigger to force intercourse with Bessie

with the desperation that causes him to kill her. Even in the most

immoral of acts, Wright finds a way to accentuate the difference between

actions borne of depravity and those borne of desperation.. The

ultimate desperation and hopeless nature of Bigger"s future as the book

closes and the death sentence is imposed leaves the reader with a sense

of sympathy at Bigger"s plight. Bigger"s state at the end of the novel

parallels the desperation of Black America"s present and the uncertainty

of its future.

Black Americans in the 1930s faced seemingly insurmountable

challenges. Latent racism and poverty made them desperate for

solutions. Wright proves this through the life of Bigger Thomas. He

hopes that White America will realize that a only a desperate action

could be expected under these desperate conditions. Wright says of

Bigger: "Never again did he want to feel anything like hope" (315).

The author suggests that all Blacks felt this way when he writes of the

many families who were being persecuted during the search for Bigger.

This novel is a call to the nation urging recognition of the desperate

plight of Black America. Wright poignantly tells the story of the

immoral Bigger Thomas but is able to draw sympathy for what many white

Americans see as the typical black miscreant by clearly defining his

common human emotions. Bigger"s desperation to protect his own life in

spite of the obstacles around him makes him a brilliant representative

for Blacks in America. Wright wonders and asks the question he

attributes to Bigger in the novel. "Why did he and his folks have to

live like this?" (100) 

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