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Refutation: The Story of Bigger Thomas (native Son)

Essay by review  •  November 5, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,178 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,036 Views

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In Darryl Pinckney's discerning critical essay, "Richard Wright: The Unnatural History of a Native Son," Pinckney states that all of Wright's books contain the themes of violence, inhumanity, rage, and fear. Wright writes about these themes because he expresses, in his books, his convictions about his own struggles with racial oppression, the "brutal realities of his early life." Pinckney claims that Wright's works are unique for Wright's works did not attempt to incite whites to acknowledge blacks. Wright does not write to preach that blacks are equal to whites. The characters in Wright's works, including Bigger Thomas from Native Son, are not all pure in heart; the characters have psychological burdens and act upon their burdens. For instance, Bigger Thomas, long under racial oppression, accidentally suffocates Mary Dalton in her room for fear that he will be discriminated against and charged with the rape of Mary Dalton. Also, according to Pinckney, although the characters of Wright's books are under these psychological burdens, they always have "futile hopes [and] desires." At the end of Native Son, Bigger is enlightened by the way his lawyer Max treats him, with the respect of a human being. Bigger then desires nothing but to live, but he has been sentenced to death.

Although Pinckney expresses many strong points in his critical essay, he also reveals weak points. For example, Pinckney mentions that Wright is neither a black leader such as Malcolm X nor a writer with any strong background in American literature, yet Pinckney implicitly states that Wright is a great writer and that one must analyze his past to understand how he is a great writer. In that perspective, he also commends Wright's book, Native Son. He states:

Native Son is unmatched in its power...It is not true as Baldwin claims that Bigger Thomas, the doomed, frustrated black boy, is just another stereotype...extreme in his wish to injure himself and do injury to others...

Pinckney praises Native Son as a powerful intellectual book that deals with issues of racism and oppression. He says explicitly that it is the most powerful book, but it is unclear what domain of books Pinckney is comparing Native Son with. Pinckney refutes James Baldwin's statement about Native Son, saying that Bigger Thomas is not a mere stereotype, but an example of a stressed black boy of the racially segregated American society during the 1930s. It is true that Bigger Thomas is a victim of a racially segregated society. He lives in the "Black Belt," the only area where blacks are allowed to inhabit. The area is a slum, but ironically, rents in that area are priced higher than everywhere else. Bigger is a character, searching for a way to feel that he actually exists and is alive as a human being, not a subordinate creature under whites. Bigger feels unable to find a position in a world, where opportunities are not given generously to blacks. This frustrates Bigger, though he does not realize it until he comes into close contact with whites. He responds to stress and fear with anger and an impulse that has driven Bigger to his murders of Mary Dalton and Bessie. It is not true, as Pinckney argues, that Bigger Thomas is not just a stereotype.

Bigger Thomas does not represent much more than the stereotypical African American living during the 1930s. Bigger resides with his family - a single mother, younger sister, and a younger brother - in the slums of Chicago. His father is killed in a riot against the injustices to the black race. His mother is extremely religious in hope of deliverance and light in her life. His siblings have accepted their lives as they are. Bigger is part of a family that has the aspects fitting the stereotype of stressed characteristics of a black family living before the Civil Rights Movement. Bigger is a violent character. He becomes violent, intent to hurt someone, when he is in anger or fear. For example, "Bigger [whirls] and [kicks Gus] hard" (Pg. 37) and continues to

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