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Native Son

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  93,502 ratings  ·  4,042 reviews
Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic.

Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright's powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on t
Paperback, 504 pages
Published August 2nd 2005 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1940)
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Claire It's an upsetting book. I must tell you that it doesn't get any less upsetting. It's not worth reading a book if it will send you into a depression sp…moreIt's an upsetting book. I must tell you that it doesn't get any less upsetting. It's not worth reading a book if it will send you into a depression spell - it's important to take care of yourself! The emotional heaviness just gets more intense as the book goes on, and <spoiler> there is a rape scene and an even more graphic murder later. The trial is also difficult to read and it goes into detail about the murders. </spoiler> This isn't the book to read if you're having a rough mental health spell, I don't think. It's undeniably a wonderful book, and an important one, but I would advise you to use caution if you decide to keep going. Hope this helps.(less)

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Ben Siems
Dec 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone!
My older brother Larry, who is extremely well-read, recently came to town for a visit. He had with him a copy of Native Son. I asked what prompted him to re-read it. He explained that he had actually never read it before, which he confessed was really odd, given that the book is an undisputed classic.

Well, here is Larry's two-word review of the book:
Holy shit.

I concur.

Those who have studied the Harlem Renaissance know that Richard Wright was a passionate, angry man, the writer about whom other
This book is extremely powerful. I saw another review saying that they could not believe this was written and released in 1940. I agree - as I can only imagine how controversial the content would have been at that time. And, even today it touches so closely on some of the topics you see in the news everyday, it's like Wright could see into the future.

The main themes in the story involve perceptions and misconceptions of black people as well as how Communism was viewed in the decade leading up to
“These were the rhythms of his life: indifference and violence; periods of abstract brooding and periods of intense desire; moments of silence and moments of anger—like water ebbing and flowing from the tug of a far-away invisible force. Being this way was a need of his as deep as eating. He was like a strange plant blooming in the day and wilting at night; but the sun that made it bloom and the cold darkness that made it wilt were never seen. It was his own sun and darkness, a private and perso ...more
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Updating my shelves. I read this in high school for a book report. Being that I'm from the Chicago suburbs originally this was one of my first exposures to life in another part of the city and I found the book to be fascinating. It would be interesting to reread it through adult eyes. ...more
One has got to appreciate the diplomatic mincing of words that graces the GR blurb.
"Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright's powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America."

A distinctly innocuous 'what it means to be black in America' is a nice little euphemism for 'institutionalized racism' or terminology like 'white supremacist capitalist patriarchy' whi
Feb 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
(SPOILERS!) Reading the first 2 parts of "Native Son," Richard Wright's landmark novel is an absolute thrill. One part Tom Ripley, one part Graham Greene's "Brighton Rock," the antihero always reigns triumphant. But this antihero lacks panache, intelligence, even, perhaps, a conscience... all the character traits of a true villain. So he's somewhere in between. The crimes committed by the much-studied, much-written-about Bigger Thomas are heinous. The character study is super taut and intense. " ...more
Have you heard the name Trayvon Martin? If you have, good. If you haven’t, look him up. Open a tab, search up the name, T-R-A-Y-V-O-N etc, and read. Familiarize yourself with the exact definitions of the atrocity, the scope of the repercussions throughout the US, the up and currently running process of rectification that in a fair and just world would not be as excruciatingly slow and painful as it’s turning out to be. In a fair and just world, he would not be one of countless mown down for ever ...more
I've struggled for almost a year to write a review for this book. I think it's so difficult because I just didn't like the way that I felt about it. A main character who is despicable surround by well meaning but ultimately patronizing people who aren't that all fired likeable either. This was easily one of the most uncomfortable and unpleasant reading experiences this year. Normally I would have written this off as terrible but for one thing. Wright has achieved exactly what he set out to do. T ...more
Apr 24, 2020 added it
Shelves: 2020
A gripping naturalist novel delving into the psychological toll of racism on Black interiority. There’s so much to critique about the work, from its misogyny to its clunky structure, but its influence and forceful condemnation of white supremacy make it still worth reading.
A challenging read. The easy route for the author Richard Wright would've been to write a novel asking us to sympathize with a black man wrongfully accused of murder in a racist community. But he does not take the easy route. Instead he implores the reader to follow Bigger Thomas, a young black man who is absolutely guilty of committing a deplorable act (for reasons which he himself cannot fully explain), and forces us to look at the circumstances which might have possibly created this complex m ...more
Roman Clodia
Oct 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a brave and confrontational book this is! Wright could have gone down the easy route of making Bigger Thomas a falsely accused man and generated sympathy by showing him as the victim of a racialised legal system, but he doesn't - instead he gives us a far more complex portrait of Blackness, masculinity and class, all of which collide in Bigger.

Wright's introduction makes the point that Bigger is a composite of men he has known - white as well as black - ill-educated, dispossessed, alienate
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: Rowena
Maybe it's the inevitable melancholy of getting older, but reading this novel for the second time, roughly 13 years after the first go, has made me tremendously sad and despairing.

I would like to think the country is so much different 70 years after its publication, but is it?
What a powerful book. In narrative, theme, character and motifs, Wright uses his whole arsenal to show us the horrors of racism. He seems to be able to reflect back the experience of racism—how it's created and it's cycle of destruction. I've read other Black writers before, but this book is probably the one that has taken on and embodied racism more so than any other book for me.

For a novel written in 1940, the book holds up quite well. Unfortunately, while our nation has made progress, especi
Ryan Lawson
Oct 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Richard Wright's Native Son is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most powerful books that I have read, ever. This nightmarish story packs such an overwhelming amount of emotion and controversy that it is hard to pull away from much like the sight of a gruesome car crash on an interstate, you don't want to look but you must look. If you're looking for a competent, confident example of verisimilitude in literature then you need not look further.

Upon reading this piece, I wondered the entire
Esteban del Mal
Jul 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: americana, novel, fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nathan Paul
Jan 30, 2010 rated it did not like it
While I realize some of the things that Wright is trying to say in this book, I could not bring myself to enjoy it at all. One of the main reasons was because I simply detested the main character, Bigger Thomas. The reason I disliked him so much was not because he is amoral; no, there are characters in books I like who are quite evil. The reason I disliked him is because he did things that were completely pointless and he was also not a very deep or interesting character. This book also dragged ...more

This book was included in “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.”

I own the 2006 edition of “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.” Peter Boxall is the general editor and the preface was written by Peter Ackroyd. This book has compiled 1001 recommended books, primarily novels which were selected by over 100 contributors (literary critics, professors of literature, etc.). For each recommended book there is information on the author and a short blurb about the book.

I use "1001 Books Yo
Clif Hostetler
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
As a reader going through the book, I was aghast at the brutal descriptions of murder and coverup contained within the first two-thirds of the book. I don't normally read this sort to stuff. Nevertheless, I recognize the book as a realistic depiction of the ravaged world of urban African Americans of the 1930s (published 1940) with repercussions remaining today.

The story is told with the highly charged consciousness of an uneducated and embittered black man who has been radically cut off from t
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The suspense made my heart race even though I knew what was going to happen. I found myself holding my breath and clenching my fist; the description about how Bigger was feeling was so vivid. The subject matter was a lot to swallow but I see why this novel is a classic; the description of racism was enough to change the world.
Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Even after thinking about this book for days, I still don’t know what to write. I think we’ve all learned about 1930s/1940s black America, but none of us have truly experienced it. We sympathize with the black people, we cheer on stories of people such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., and we are grateful that our world is not the same way today. Yet, how many of us have truly had to put ourselves in the shoes of those people? How many of us have really known what it’s like to be treated ...more
A powerful book about a young black man named Bigger Thomas who kills a white woman out of fear for his own life. Richard Wright takes us to Chicago in the 1930s, where Bigger just obtained a new job working as a chauffeur under the wealthy Dalton family. Mary Dalton, the family's luxurious daughter, and Jan, her communist boyfriend, treat Bigger well - a suspicious feat because Bigger has suffered tragedy all his life. That night ends in tragedy when Bigger kills Mary in a claustrophobic space, ...more
Apr 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Black men, white men, well-intentioned white girls, people who think America is post-racial
Bigger Thomas, the protagonist of Native Son, is a shiftless, bullying, vulgar young man who begins the book tormenting his poor mother, goes to a billiards club to plan a robbery with his equally ne'er-do-well friends, then he and one of his friends goes to a movie theater to masturbate in the seats.

He ends the book accused of the capital rape and murder of a white girl, whom he did murder (but did not in fact rape), but by his own words to his lawyer, makes clear that raping her was something
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: three-times-read
Uncomfortable...but necessary
Vince Will Iam
Infuriatingly brilliant! Outrageously gripping! This is my second book by Wright. His Black Boy was already one of my all-time favourites, but I think it fair to say that this novel at least equals it in scope and suspense.

The writing is flawless and keeps you on edge from the very first page. Few novelists build tension like Richard Wright. Against the backdrop of a crowded, racially-segregated Chicago, it's no wonder terrible things happen sometimes. So when there is one brash young white fema
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Are you a White? Do you want to understand how it was for Blacks, particularly those who are poor, in the States, in the 30s and 40s and of course before that too? This book is set in Chicago. You read it to climb into the skin of a Black. It is not pleasant, but it is revealing. Do you dare?

The book description just does not get across the most important aspect of the book: you will be in Bigger's skin, and this is scary. As I noted below, for much of the book you will be sitting on the edge o
Missy J
Mar 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Confidence could only come again now through action so violent that it would make him forget. These were the rhythms of his life: indifference and violence; periods of abstract brooding and periods of intense desire; moments of silence and moments of anger - like water ebbing and flowing from the tug of a far-away, invisible force. Being this way was a need of his as deep as eating."
Bigger Thomas might be the most difficult character I've come across in fiction. Never have a I felt so
Richard Wright's Native Son is the story of a crime, though not so much the story of the crimes of the book's protagonist, Bigger Thomas, the directionless, impoverished amoral black youth eking out an existence in a cold and dark Chicago in the late 1930s. The crime, it goes without saying, is the subjugation of black people and the differing set of disadvantageous rules proscribed for them in the United States.

A book review on this topic could, with great ease, spill over the boundaries of Goo
May 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
From time to time, a voice from the desert would call and awaken us and Native Son was and still is such a voice.

Bigger Thomas in a panic suffocated Mary Dalton and then burned her body to hide the crime and to avoid capture he smashed Bessie Mears with a brick and let her freeze to death. There is no question of the brutality of the crimes. An even Bigger, when in jail, believes he deserves to die for them.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog

But through the story of Bigger
What with a second Like of a the previous blank review (to say nothing of the pathetically non-puissant comments I've made below regarding the desire to read it again), I have become aware that I must reread this in the coming year. Must. Must. Must!

The only thing to prevent it is my memory of the declaration I've just made. I still have the book after all these years. Shame on me.

Actually I've now done something at home that I think will make it a high-probability read in 2018.

. . . . . . . .
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Richard Wright is a great existential writer and this book has become one of my all time favorites. One which deserves to be ranked along side the works of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. It is probably one of the most insightful and heart rending explorations of the African American experience in literature. One could see why it received widespread condemnation at the time when it was written. It’s a story that frightened white and black Americans alike. Yet such a story needed to be told.

Wright show
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Reading 1001: Native Son by Richard Wright 3 20 Jun 29, 2020 07:08PM  
Boxall's 1001 Bo...: February {2020} Discussion -- NATIVE SON by Richard Wright 3 67 Feb 28, 2020 04:00PM  
Native Son Discussion: 10/7/19-10/11/19 3 14 Feb 03, 2020 03:07PM  
Retro Chapter Chi...: Native Son 2019 5 8 Oct 01, 2019 07:58PM  
Native Son 10/1-10/4 1 6 Oct 01, 2019 09:14AM  

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Richard Nathaniel Wright was an African-American author of powerful, sometimes controversial novels, short stories and non-fiction. Much of his literature concerned racial themes. His work helped redefine discussions of race relations in America in the mid-20th century.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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