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Native Son

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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 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.

504 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1940

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About the author

Richard Wright

199 books1,667 followers
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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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,643 reviews
Profile Image for Ben Siems.
79 reviews22 followers
December 21, 2021
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 African American writers of his era would say, "Well, I'd never write THAT, but I'm glad someone did." Native Son is a brutally frank look at the racial divide of the America of the 1930s, and the relevance to today is positively painful.

There have been many profound and moving stories, both true and fictionalized, of young black men wrongfully accused of crimes. This book dares to tell the story of a young black man who, in a moment of panic, commits a horrible act. That makes the way the man is treated thereafter so incredibly present and real. You can't read this story from a distance. You're in it, you feel it so palpably.

I think Native Son is one of the most powerful and important American books ever written.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,946 reviews292k followers
August 27, 2022
How can law contradict the lives of millions of people and hope to be administered successfully?

I went on quite the journey with this book. It's not often that I have so many ups and downs with a read-- generally, if I like or dislike a book for the first, say, 25%, that is not likely to change in the remaining 75%. I feel like I could write an essay on everything Native Son took me through.

I decided early on that I didn't like it. It made me quite furious, to be honest, and I was listing criticisms in my head and having a little rant to my partner about it. But I think, in hindsight, that I just didn’t understand it. I thought, wrongly, that the point of the story was to sympathise with Bigger and the injustice heaped upon him— a tough task when he is a murderer and a rapist —but that’s not actually the point Wright is making.

Native Son is often compared to Ellison's Invisible Man, which is a book with a protagonist who is much easier to sympathise with and I assumed that I was dealing with more of the same. That's not quite true, though. And I personally feel this is a more interesting and complex story (and more readable, in my opinion).

It's a tough book because Bigger Thomas is hard to forgive and impossible to like. In Book One, he takes a job working as a chauffeur for a wealthy white family and accidentally kills the daughter. He panics and attempts to cover up the murder, before figuring out a way he could potentially profit from it. In Book Two, he rapes and murders a black woman who is trying to help him.

I read these parts aghast, wondering what on earth Wright was thinking writing this in 1940s America. Bigger Thomas is not the wrongly-accused black hero, but the exact black criminal racists feared. As a 21st Century reader, I picked up this book ready to be on Bigger's side, moral indignation flag flying, and I was deeply confused to discover that Bigger was not, in fact, someone I could root for.

But it was in the third section of the book when I finally began to understand how clever it was and what I had been missing all along: That Bigger Thomas was never meant to be a sympathetic hero, but a representation of racial injustice and the wrong America was doing black people.
There was just the old feeling, the feeling that he had had all his life; he was black and had done wrong; white men were looking at something with which they would soon accuse him.

Wright, ultimately, asks "what can you expect?" In Book Three his voice rings through, angry, frustrated, tired, as he delivers, through Mr Max, a searing monologue. How, he asks, could someone who has been shown only hatred and violence and injustice be expected to grow into an upstanding citizen? How can you fail black people again and again, deny them livable housing, education and fair treatment under the law... and expect anything less than a generation of Bigger Thomases? If black people are becoming criminals, then it is because America made them so.

The author pulls no punches as the novel draws to a close. Through the use of a communist legal representative, he also explores the intersection of race and class, and speaks about capitalist incentives for keeping black people in their place. He explains Bigger's suspicions about Mary-- a well-meaning white woman who tries to help him --and how he fears her intentions, fears what others will think if they see them together.

I felt emotionally exhausted at the end, but in a good way I suppose. Native Son had made me feel angry, sad, frustrated and even confused at times, but I was always feeling something. It is these kinds of books that stay with me.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,741 followers
December 10, 2018
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 McCarthyism and the Red Scare. In this story there are many points of view and lots of evidence given dealing with tense situations that have no really great answers. I thought Wright did a good job giving a thought provoking narrative without obviously saying "here is the answer!" The story acknowledges that the whole situation is difficult and will not be easily remedied after years of habitual behavior on all sides of the issue. I will be amazed if you can read this and not be left with your mind churning.

Also, I have to say that this was one of the most intense, nail-biting, breath holding books I have ever read. Every page I was gripped waiting for the next development, a resolution, anything. Amazing, gripping writing - such an engaging book! The subject matter may be difficult at times but it deals with topics that are, by there very nature, intense and cannot (and should not) be sugar coated

Finally, I could not help but make comparisons between this book and To Kill A Mockingbird. My reasons might be a bit spoilerish, but if you have read it I hope you know what I am getting at and I will be interested to see if you feel the same.

In summary, Native Son is a powerful and difficult book dealing directly and bravely with social issues from the 1940s that are still relevant today. Considering the nature of the book, it may not be for everyone, but I think that everyone can benefit from the message.
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,439 followers
February 25, 2015
“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 personal sun and darkness.” Richard Wright, Native Son

This story is still heavily on my mind. I think if I’d read it earlier, I would have reacted to it differently. There is so much going on it has been hard for me to write a coherent review but I feel compelled to write down some of my thoughts, regardless of how disjointed they may be.

The story starts off with a poor black family trying to kill a rat in their apartment, it reeks of poverty from the start and quickly materializes into showing us the dark side of racist American society. It introduces us to our protagonist, Bigger Thomas, who I’d heard of even before I read this book; I knew that he had accidentally killed a white girl, and then killed a black girl to cover his crime. I’d even read James Baldwin’s literary criticism of this book, but there was more to this story than that. Had I known, I wouldn’t have stayed away from this novel for this long.

The mind-numbing lives black people had to live was clearly illustrated from the start. The drugs, alcohol, women, pool playing, cheap movies, religion....all were seen as ways to not think about what was going on around them. As Bigger said, “He knew that the moment he allowed himself to feel to its fullness how they lived, the shame and misery of their lives, he would be swept out of himself with fear and despair.”

My feelings about the book were in part influenced by the current civil rights movement in the States. If that hadn't been going on, the book would still have been horrific, but with it, it was even more visceral. It would have been more satisfying to have finished reading the book and said, "Thank God all that crazy racism stuff is over," but watch the news on any given day and you know it's alive and well.

I was fascinated by how the whites and blacks interacted. In the book, we have a rich white family, the Dalton’s, who are actually the good guys but even they had a problematic way of looking at, and dealing with, the blacks they purported to be helping. They made them appear so simplistic, almost like children. On the other hand, Mary, the daughter, did not really understand that her being overly friendly to Bigger, or inviting him to eat with her, was actually making him uncomfortable and could cause serious repercussions for him. In her privileged position she failed to have much empathy or understanding for Bigger. I saw Mary and her boyfriend Jan as behaving like old-school anthropologists, going to observe blacks “in their natural habitat”, as it were. Their actions were very voyeuristic and I could understand Bigger’s rage at their behaviour. The psychological aspects of race and poverty is not something they understood, coming from privileged backgrounds. There was the lack of privacy the poor had, the fact that their lives were so clearly on display and that they had little to no control over their lives that made Jan and Mary's actions particularly degrading.

To be honest, this book scared me. It scared me because it showed that you can have groups of people living in close proximity, yet not knowing anything about each other, instead holding on to an alien image of the other:

“To Bigger and his kind white people were not really people; they were a sort of great natural force, like a stormy sky looming overhead, or like a deep swirling river stretching suddenly at one’s feet in the dark. As long as he and his black folks did not go beyond certain limits, there was no need to fear that white force. But whether they feared it or not, each and every day of their lives they lived with it; even when words did not sound its name, they acknowledged its reality. As long as they lived here in this prescribed corner of the city, they paid mute tribute to it.”

It scared me because people are treated according to their race, and like it or not, recent events have shown this. It scared me that the coloured body can be exploited, even in death.

Poor Bessie, she said: “I just work! I ain’t had no happiness, no nothing. I just work. I’m black and I work and don’t bother nobody…” Probably the cry of so many at the time. And to make matters even worse, in death her body is exploited. What made her death even sadder and more tragic was this:

“Though he had killed a black girl and a white girl, he knew that it would be for the death of the white girl that he would be punished. The black girl was merely “evidence.”

The media whipping people into a frenzy, not just with race but with Islamophobia, is happening now, just as it happened back then:

“Several hundred Negroes resembling Bigger Thomas were rounded up...” Like the panelist at a Black History Month event I attended this week said, regarding his having been stopped by the Vancouver police who said he fitted a description of a black man wanted for robbery, “You mean a black man between 5’ 2” and 7’ 3?”

This book showed me the impact of racism in an even more profound way than in other books I've read.I don't think I will ever forget it.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56k followers
March 23, 2022
Native Son, Richard Wright

Native Son (1940) is a novel written by the American author Richard Wright.

It tells the story of 20-year-old Bigger Thomas, an African American youth living in utter poverty in a poor area on Chicago's South Side in the 1930's. He finds work as a chauffeur for the Dalton family. In a patriarchal way, she shows herself to be friendly to blacks. The escalation comes from Mary, the exalted, egalitarian daughter of the house. She asks Bigger Thomas to accompany her and her boyfriend when they go out, after which he has to bring the drunken Mary to her room.

When her blind mother, awakened by noises, comes into her room to check on her, Bigger Thomas is seized with fear. Fearing that this situation will be misunderstood, he tries - shaped by a life that has always consisted of fear and violence - to silence Mary and accidentally suffocates her in the process. When his girlfriend Bessie tries to convince him to surrender, he also kills her. ...

Book One: Fear
Book Two: Flight
Book Three: Fate

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز هفدهم ماه می سال2004میلادی

عنوان: خانه‌ زاد (پسر بومی)؛ نویسنده: ریچارد رایت؛ مترجم: سعید باستانی؛ مشحصات نشر: تهران، نشر نقره، سال1366، در516ص؛ چاپ دیگر آبادان، پرستش، سال1382؛ شابک9646629687؛ چاپ دیگر آبادان، پرستش، سال1384، در497ص؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، هاشمی، سال1397؛ در488ص؛ شابک9789647199391؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده20م

رمان رئالیستی معترض «خانه زاد» یا همان «پسر بومی»، نخستین بار در سال1940میلادی منتشر شد، و چنان غوغایی در انجمنهای ادبی - اجتماعی «آمریکا»، بر پا کرد، که «ریچارد رایت»، به یکی از خبرسازترین نویسندگان آن سالها، بدل شدند، و «بیگر تاماس (شخصیت اصلی رمان)» را نیز، به یک تیپ کلاسیک، در ادبیات «آمریکا»، یا ادبیاتی که از آن به عنوان «ادبیات اعتراض»، نام میبرند، تبدیل کرد؛ رمانی که در آن توانائی «رئالیسم» اینبار، با واژه های «ریچارد رایت» نقاشی میشود؛ داستان رمان، به سالهای پایانی دهه ی1930میلادی در «آمریکا»، به شهر «شیکاگو» باز میگردد، و حال و هوایی که در آن، سیاهپوستان، زندگی بسیار دشوار، و غم انگیزی دارند؛ داستان، از روزگار جوان سیاهپوستی آغاز میشود، که در کنار مادر، خواهر، و برادر کوچکترش، در خانه ای تنگ و پوسیده، زندگی میکنند؛ پسر سیاهپوست، دلِ خوشی، از سفیدپوستان ندارد، و در حال و هوایی است، که همگی آن را درمییابیم، از سوی بنگاه کاریابی، برای او کاری، در خانه ی یک میلیونر سفیدپوست، پیدا میشود؛ «بیگر» به عنوان راننده، برگزیده میشود، و میفهمد، که دختر همان میلیونر (که هر سال به انجمنهای سیاهان هم کمکهایی میکند)، به حزب «کمونیست آمریکا»، گرایش دارد، و از آغاز کوشش میکند، راننده را، با آموزه های حزب خویش آشنا کند؛ سیاهپوست جوان تنها میشنود، و پاسخ نمیدهد، تا اینکه به طور اتفاقی، دختر را به قتل میرساند...، از این قسمت تا پایان رمان، ماجراها و رخدادهای فراوانی روی میدهند، و کلیتی ساخته میشود، که در آن میتوان برآیند جامعه ای بزک شده را، در برابر یک موضوع نژادی، درک کرد؛ «ریچارد رایت»، در این رمان، با استفاده از زبانی جاندار، و با دیالوگهای ساده و تکان دهنده، نوعی از «خشونت رئالیستی» را، برای خوانشگران خود با واژه های خویش به تصویر میکشند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 11/04/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ 02/01/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Matt.
908 reviews28.1k followers
February 27, 2022
“‘Sometimes I feel like something awful’s going to happen to me,’ Bigger spoke with a tinge of bitter pride in his voice.

‘What you mean?’ Gus asked, looking at him quickly. There was fear in Gus’s eyes.

‘I don’t know. I just feel that way. Every time I get to thinking about me being black and they being white, me being here and they being there, I feel like something awful’s going to happen to me…’

‘Aw, for Chrissakes! There ain’t nothing you can do about it. How come you want to worry yourself? You black and they make the laws…’

‘Why they make us live in one corner of the city? Why don’t they let us fly planes and run ships…’

The plane was gone from the sky and the white plumes of floating smoke were thinly spread, vanishing…

‘Nothing ever happens,’ [Bigger] complained.

‘What you want to happen?’

‘Anything,’ Bigger said with a wide sweep of his dingy palm, a sweep that included all the possible activities of the world…”

- Richard Wright, Native Son

The formidable reputation of Native Son makes it hard to decide upon an angle of approach. It is not simply a novel, but a call to action, and a landmark of fiction written by a trailblazing black author. Anyone reading Richard Wright’s classic is confronted with a work of art that is operating on several different levels at once. Appreciating it fully – if such a thing is possible – means following the separate strands that bind it together, and accepting that certain choices were made for reasons larger than literature.


At its most basic, Native Son is crime fiction, featuring startling acts of violence and the gruesome aftermaths to those acts. But the crime itself is secondary to other, larger societal crimes that created the criminal that led to the violence.

The central character is Bigger Thomas, a twenty-year-old black man living a constrained and impoverished life in Chicago. Though written in the third person, the story is presented through his eyes alone, so that we see only what he sees, and his perspective becomes our perspective. That perspective is of a world that is off-limits to him, a world that he can only view as though through the barred windows of a prison. By the time we meet Bigger on his journey, the things that he has experienced have done frightening things to his soul.


Native Son is divided into three parts, each very different, though deftly connected, and leading to a resonant climax. The first section is our introduction to Bigger, caught between taking a job as a chauffeur for a rich white family or carrying out a robbery. Fighting with his family and his friends, he is initially a prickly, angry character, one who has been crudely molded by racism, de facto segregation, and poverty.

The book’s middle portion is a dark, unsettling thriller of sorts. After a twist or two of fortune, Bigger is put in a desperate situation that results in the accidental commission of a crime. His response to this unintended turn is disturbing, yet also fully in keeping with the man we have met. As Bigger tries to work things to his advantage, Native Son becomes – for a time – almost unbearably tense.

The final third of Native Son is a summing up of sorts. Much of it consists of lengthy speeches delivered by a racist, fearmongering prosecutor, and a zealous attorney with ties to the Communist Party. This device for delivering the novel’s main points runs the risk of veering into the pedantic, but Wright pulls it off due to the sheer quality of the writing, and the complexity of the ideas he is laying out. Having presented Bigger as a monster in human form, Wright uses this finale to explain the larger forces at play, the ones that shaped Bigger, and led him inexorably onward to the inescapable cul-de-sac for which he was destined from birth. The last few pages offer up a rather devastating form of redemption, though not redemption in any traditional sense. Wright gives no false hope, no sentimentality, and no emotional catharsis.


When it was first published in 1940, certain scenes from Native Son were excised or altered to comply with the requirements of the Book-of-the-Month Club. This restored addition hews closer to Wright’s original manuscript (there are fifteen pages of explanatory notes), and is very graphic in its depictions, even by today’s standards. There are passages about masturbation, murder, sexual assault, and dismemberment, many of them raw and brutal.


Bigger features into every page of Native Son, and he is an unforgettable protagonist. Wright easily could have made him more likeable, more sympathetic. He could have tweaked the plot to make Bigger wrongly accused and unjustly convicted, a target of unequal systems. Instead, Wright has him do what he does, thereby forcing the reader to accept Bigger on starker terms than might be expected. While Bigger’s initial misdeed is partly an accident, he does some terrible things afterword that are entirely premeditated. It becomes a test of sorts to stay with Bigger till the end.

To counterbalance Bigger’s extreme actions, Wright often interjects to clarify the reason things are unfolding as they are. This creates a minor inconsistency in Bigger, as he seems to be both a victim of fate, yet also entirely aware of the influences working against him. Of course, this is a function of Bigger’s dual role in Native Son, as both an individual and a symbol. That is, Wright’s purpose in presenting Bigger in this particular way is to deliver a message, which includes a warning. As Wright himself wrote in a contemporary article included in this edition, Bigger is “a native son of this land,” a “product of a dislocated society,” living “amid the greatest possible plenty on earth,” but still “looking and feeling for a way out.” In short, Bigger is an embodiment of a hopelessness felt by an entire race, and at the end of that hopelessness there will be a reckoning.


Native Son is a knotty and uncompromising reading experience. Many books can be consumed passively; this one demands engagement. It is often painful and discomforting, but like many painful and discomforting things in life, it is also necessary.
Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,522 followers
May 9, 2016
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' which are too confrontational, too accusatory, too ominous sounding. That America continues to practice a similar form of conscious prevarication to avoid facing the true sordidness of its race problem is in some small way responsible for this book's enduring relevance. America is still bowed under the weight of its real Bigger Thomas-es and their collective existential agony, otherwise Travyon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner would, perhaps, still be alive.
What the book blurb avoids spelling out is that to be black in America is to follow a trajectory of limited self improvement or slow and gradual decline carved out for one by malevolent, mysterious forces way beyond one's control. To be deprived of an agency, to have one's freedom of movement, thought, and speech so severely restricted that the only way for a working class black man to make his presence felt in the world is by (accidentally) killing a rich white girl, one whose coveted sexuality and beauty are treated as valuable objects in the ownership of the white supremacist capitalist patriarch.
Half the time I feel like I'm on the outside of the world peeping in through a knothole in the fence... .

Bigger Thomas embraces an absurd world and finds meaning in an otherwise futile existence only by committing accidental murder and finding a sense of accomplishment in that act but unlike Camus's Meursault the source of his private angst and indifference in the face of persecution is situated within a realm in which Jim Crow laws reign supreme.
It was the first full act of his life; it was the most meaningful, exciting and stirring thing that had ever happened to him. He accepted it because it made him free, gave him the possibility of choice, of action, the opportunity to act and to feel that his actions carried weight.

No other work has brought back memories of 'The Wire' (which has got to be the best thing ever made for television viewing) as acutely as 'Native Son' and Ta-Nehisi Coates' powerful diatribe against the systematic destruction of 'black bodies' in contemporary America (Between the World and Me) because both books and tv show explicate the heart-breaking consequences of social injustice in its many macabre avatars and the trickle-down effect of public policy aimed at preserving the noxious but brittle status quo. And yet the discerning will not fail to notice that I have rated this work 4 stars despite my limitless love for The Wire. This is majorly owing to the fact that Wright, much like Camus in The Stranger, seeks to rationalize a crime(s) simply to propound a philosophy. The murdered women, especially Bessie Mears, are relegated to the status of lifeless plot devices whose purpose is merely to flesh out Bigger's fear of and anger at a world in which he is perpetually treated as a pariah. Silly white entitled ignorant Mary Dalton is as much objectified by Bigger and his friends as by the self-righteously outraged white community which treats her murder as an event of communal humiliation. Her personhood, life, socialist inclinations, and opinions are eventually subsumed by the color of her skin and its implied political symbolism. That Bessie, as a black woman, is a doubly marginalized victim who suffers a two-pronged form of oppression perpetrated both by an essentially racist social order and black men who find an amoral form of self expression through inflicting some kind of violence on the vulnerable is also never acknowledged by the narrative.

Not that I question Richard Wright's right to place black masculinity in the foreground of his novel, but he achieves his narrative aim at the expense of overlooking the gravity of the hardships and everyday violence that black women endure. Camus displays a similar thoughtlessness while portraying the accidental murder of a nameless 'Arab' simply so that Meursault could have an epiphany and make peace with his absurd life and imminent execution. Either scenario does not sit well with me. After all, it is usually the women and people of color who are robbed of even the minimal glory of true victimhood in literature.
Profile Image for Brina.
887 reviews4 followers
November 29, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Fabian.
940 reviews1,546 followers
September 27, 2020
(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. "Fear" & "Flight" (parts 1 & 2) are absolutely perfect.

Then the bloody politics come in. The tide & tone turns radically and inexplicably. The Third and longest part of "Native Son," aptly called "Fate" seems like a purgatory teeming with bo-oh-ring soliloquies and lawyer sways. The courtroom drama I do not particularly like (think: the 600+ pages of "Bonfire of the Vanities"!), and that is why "Native Son" loses some points on its journey to reach almost-perfection. But the failure seems too great, after all's said and done. The social commentary becomes real and the magic of parts I and II disappears as everything becomes too obvious. Everything that came before, which is interesting to dissect & discuss, is pretty much eradicated by the sentimentalism that pops up at the end in this otherwise raw and unsentimental novel.
Profile Image for Monica.
583 reviews611 followers
August 3, 2022
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. This was not a read one picks up for enjoyment. This book was a demonstrative principle. It showcases Bigger Thomas as a product of his environment.

It's an ugly story. Vile in fact and Bigger Thomas in my view has no redeeming qualities. And even though Wright uses a freaking sledgehammer, I can't deny it's effectiveness. Nor can I deny the realism of the characters. The wealthy, patronizing folks who represent the elite in the world so distinctly as they reach out to give one disadvantaged person an opportunity so they can pat themselves on the back for their generosity while they are prey on the disadvantaged community offering substandard housing at unaffordable prices pretending they do much more good than harm. The liberal condescending female, who looks down from a pretentious perch and claims to be colorblind and believe in equality unable to recognize her wealth and whiteness exempt her from consequences that endanger Bigger. It's a little like "The Great Gatsby". These people were callous and don't really care. Bigger was a selfish, brutish, bitter man whose size allowed him to bully a lot of people. He is of average intelligence and lacks the drive to do better. His single mother relies on him for income to help her and her 3 kids and is constantly degrading him. He can't keep a job because he's lazy and entitled as the oldest male in the family. He lacks motivation because he really has no opportunity. This vile man is made in America. This is why I believe this book is worthy of praise. It stays with you and is still resonant today with the boot of wealthy on the neck of the poor. And the fact is that ethnic identity is still entrenched and systemic and extends beyond black and white. What are we creating when we wrest kids from their parents and put them in cages for trying to escape a violent environment? When we refuse to help people out of work due to the pandemic stay in a safe environment and keep their families fed. When we poison the public water source in a city but make no attempt to help the folks who have no other options for drinking and cleaning. When we overlook the indignities our system imposes on others because it doesn't affect us. Wright says that we create a generation of monsters. I think he's correct. A horrible book that stings because it's like a mirror reflecting things we don't like about ourselves.

4+ Stars

Listened to Audible. Narration was fine though in my mind a little emotionless. I believe that was the narrators interpretation. Narrator was Peter Francis James.

One note on this audible selection: Fortunately I was able to turn this one back in for another selection. This recording was a streaming of CDs without any type of audio editing so frequently the listener hears for example "CD 4" then continues into the story. Unprofessional for the cost of the audiobook.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,287 reviews730 followers
December 17, 2015
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 everything but a valid reason.

This is not a fair and just world.

No, this is a world where we have those who profess to be not only good writers deserving of literary rewards, but good teachers of writing to boot, despite bigoting their scope of literature down to the basic principle of whom they identify with based on parameters such as gender, sexuality, and color of skin.

Do you know what that sort of mentality would leave me, reading this book? Do you know which character I was expected to perfectly align with, the one most feasible for the goal of sewing myself up in the skin and riding around in perfect harmony? The young white girl, so filled with highflown aspirations of social justice, so loaded with easy income, so filthy with white privilege, who is suffocated and mutilated and burned up into a few fragments of bone and a single earring.

Tell me, then, oh wise teacher, keeper of books and innate sense of good literature, white, middle-aged, heterosexual, the banality of character, the default of personalization, the one archetype for whom nearly the whole of literature has been customized for and has never known what it means to eke out an empathetic terrain on the basis of understanding, not physicality. Even here, in this book written by a black man, you have an overwhelming majority in terms of representation, what with your Buckley, your Max, your multitudes of Klu Klux Klan and crowds and judges all in a big fat white male world. While I have a single soul, a Mary Dalton.

What the fuck am I supposed to do with her, this small, pretty, idiot girl who knows nothing of the agony she is sustained by, and thinks herself kind and generous by reaching out to those her very skin tone persecutes and compromising their existence with a single moment of stupidly inane trust? What am I supposed to do with this pompously fulfilled imbecile, this suicidally naïve prat who innocently frames her words out of what she perceives as an intention of kindness, treating the other as an animal when she notices their plight and accessory ensuring her comfortable existence when she returns to her natural state of self-righteous ignorance?

For you know, teacher, in spite of all that deficiencies on her part, there is a case to be made when it comes to the casual abuse and even more casual conformation of mind and soul of countless women in the history of both reality and literature. Saintly virgin, blighted whore, girlfriend in a refrigerator, all objects used with unconscious persistence of augmenting the male reality, the male realization, the male point of view. You may not know, teacher, with your blatant refusal to even consider reading literature on the other side of the curtain of your all too male sensibilities, but that is not how woman are. That is not how I am, and as such it would be all too easy to resonate with Bessie and Mary above all others, young women there and gone in a swift spending of their use in the pursuit of a story of a young and violent man.

Tell me, in light of that, should I hate Bigger Thomas? Should I spit on him and his indomitable pride of living, one that will not be blinded to the misery of him and his people no matter how much they beg and plead? Should I ignore his anger, his shame, his fearful panic in the face of living cut and dried at every second, every year, every century that his ancestors were first wrenched away from their homeland and have suffered in inhuman bondage ever since? Should I withhold my empathy for someone who looks the reality of his existence in the face, dregging out his life in a country that rapes him into a corner and sees that as the way it ought to be? Should I refuse to recognize the effects of a neverending amputation of the self’s expression onto the wider plane of life and living, the horrible consequences that can and will result so long as oppression stamps its broken and bloody way across ethics and humanity?

Should I close my ears to the integrity of Max, the manipulation of Buckley, not chase the slightest bit of critical analysis of the two and their diatribes, all because I cannot relate in terms of simple physicality? Above all, should I have not even embarked on this book written by Richard Wright, because somehow I ‘knew’ that I wouldn’t relate because of the differences the author and I have in terms of skin and gender?

Tell me, teacher, although it’s unlikely you would ever deserve the title no matter how much writing you did. Would you have me stuff myself into a box that will cradle me with familiar blindness forevermore? Would you have me tie myself down to the identity of someone like poor Mary Dalton, the little fool, and rightfully suffer for it? For I will never know what it means on a visceral level to be black, male, and in the United States, pushed past the farthest boundaries of humanity by centuries of systematic oppression of an entire people into a barren void where right and wrong squeak along with the voices of ghosts. But I do know how to read, as well as listen. I do know how to write, as well as think. I do know, in the fundamental ache of my self, what it means to be a human being.

Do you know that last one, teacher? I doubt it.
Profile Image for Michael.
657 reviews966 followers
April 29, 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.
Profile Image for Richard.
981 reviews354 followers
May 19, 2015
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 man.

Although the book isn't perfect and every now and then (especially in the last 30 pages) delves into bloated preachiness, it still is very engaging and surprisingly suspenseful. It forces you to consider how society in the 1930's created a man, for whom fear and hate were the only emotions he's ever felt, and how those emotions can lead him to murder. It challenges you to understand that although the murder is essentially accidental, Bigger knows he has done something wrong but is initially unrepentant. Because after lashing out in a situation he doesn't understand, it is the first time he feels alive, with a purpose and with the control of his own life in his hands.

A challenging and important book that pulls aside the curtain and looks dead on at the circumstances that create Bigger Thomas and at the social, class, and racial relations in our society.
“Violence is a personal necessity for the oppressed...It is not a strategy consciously devised. It is the deep, instinctive expression of a human being denied individuality.”
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,393 reviews2,387 followers
October 25, 2020
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, alienated, angry, violent at times and also scared and hurting at the alien world through which they're trying to navigate. In so many ways, this feels like a contemporary novel so it's both shocking and disheartening that it was written in 1940 - some things have changed, so much hasn't.

Bigger is subject to US segregation laws which stop him learning to fly a plane, for example, something which he yearns to do and, given how well he drives, might have given him the skills and pride he is sorely lacking. He is subject to the patronising interest of a philanthropic white family whose own privilege and 'white saviour' complex stops them seeing how uncomfortable they make Bigger with their probing questions and their charity and their desire to be seen eating with him in a Black neighbourhood diner.

Wright's own Communist beliefs shine through, with the foundational analysis of class that underpins the socialised depiction of race - Bigger could almost have been a white working-class young man caught up in a system that devalues and degrades.

There are places where this has the feel of a noir thriller, at others the prose trips over itself in something that gets close to, but is not, stream of consciousness. This isn't a book for readers who need to like a character in order to rate a book, but for the rest of us, this is angry, smart, despairing, raw and ultimately haunting as we contemplate the fate of the Bigger Thomases of our own world.
Profile Image for ij.
212 reviews171 followers
December 9, 2015

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 You Must Read Before You Die" for reference.
Profile Image for Peter.
89 reviews46 followers
April 8, 2019
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, especially some legal and institutional progress, this book and the picture it paints is still quite relevant today.

The book is very accessible. Wright's prose, while rhythmic and artful, is quite straightforward and easy to read. I can't recommend this book enough, and not just as a means to understand racism from more angles, shine a light on our own behaviors, but also as a gripping literary thriller that has stood the test of time. Put it on your to-read list.
******** Movie adaptation comment below*******
Update April 8th, 2019: Last night I watched the excellent adaptation of Native Son on HBO. While not strictly true to the source material, especially in some sections, and lacking in some ways that made the book exceptionally powerful, I would still recommend watching the movie of the same name. I won't say much more because this isn't a movie review and I want to be careful of spoilers which I know is something people care deeply about. If you've read the book the only thing to spoil is how the adaptation deviates from the source material. I won't say anymore on that topic.
Profile Image for Peiman E iran.
1,394 reviews684 followers
March 4, 2017
دوستانِ گرانقدر، عنوانِ اصلی این کتاب "پسر بومی" میباشد... «ریچارد رایت» پیش از نوشتنِ این رمان، تنها یک نویسندهٔ با استعدادِ سیاه پوست بود، امّا رمانِ "پسر بومی" جایگاه او را در مقامِ یک داستان نویسِ موفق آمریکایی، پابرجا و استوار کرد... در همین آغازِ ریویو باید بگویم که به نظرم رمان خیلی یکنواخت و صد البته خسته کننده بود
عزیزانم، این داستان بر محورِ زندگیِ تلخ و سرشار از خشم و نفرتِ سیاه پوستی به نامِ «بیگر توماس»، میگردد... این مرد سیاه پوست که به نوعی نمایندهٔ "سیاه نوین" است، با به قتل رساندنِ زنی سفید پوست یا همان دخترِ ارباب، هویت قومی و فردی خود را باز می یابد... او درآستانهٔ مرگ و اعدام، به این خودآگاهی میرسد و به «ماکس» که وکیلِ سفید پوست و مارکسیستِ اوست، میگوید: هویتِ من همان هویت و هدفی است که به خاطرش این زن را کشتم
به نظر میرسد که «ریچارد رایت» با خلقِ جوانی سیاه و خشمگین و طغیان زده، هدفش این بوده است که او را درست مقابلِ شخصیتی سیاه پوست و آرام و ساکت و فرمانبردار همچون «عمو توم» بگذارد که همه میدانیم تا چه اندازه بردهٔ سیاه پوستِ مطیعی بود
دنیایِ درونیِ «بیگر توماس» انعکاسی است از جهانِ خشن و بسیار پهناورِ بیرون از جامعه ای که او در آن پرورش یافته است... بر اساسِ نظر نویسنده، این جامعه بارها او را به قتل رسانده است و دوباره او را زنده ک��ده تا بازهم او را به قتل برساند
این جوانِ سیاه پوست و خشن، پس از درونی کردنِ انگیزه هایِ جنایتِ خود و پس از کاوش در پیامدهای آن، به خودآگاهی دست میابد، لذا از جنایتی که مرتکب شده، نتیجه ای میگیرد که هم برایِ قاضی و هیئت منصفه، و هم برایِ وکیلِ او، تازه و البته غیر مترقبه است
نویسنده، «ریچارد رایت» بر این نکته تأکید میکند که توجه او تنها به مسئلهٔ سیاه پوستان نیست و در مقدمهٔ کتاب مینویسد: هنگامِ نوشتنِ این رمان متوجه شدم که «بیگر» سیاه نیست! گاهی هم سفید پوست است
هدفِ «رایت» به قول خودش با هم پیمان شدنِ سیاه و سفید، ایجاد جامعه ای آزاد و برابر است، امّا نمیدانم چرا خشونت و قتل را برایِ قهرمانِ داستانش انتخاب کرده است!! در هرحال داستان را با تیزهوشی آنطور که میخواهد پیش میبرد و سبب میشود تا نامزدِ آن زنِ کشته شده و وکیلِ سفید پوستِ «بیگر توماس» با او همدردی کنند و دلشان به حال او بسوزد
بهتر است خودتان این داستان را بخوانید، و از نوع خشونت این جوان سیاه پوست و البته سرانجام این داستان، آگاه شوید
نویسنده این پیام را میرساند که : هیچکس نه کاملاً سیاه است و نه مطلقاً سفید است
امیدوارم این ریویو، در جهتِ شناختِ این کتاب، مفید بوده باشه
«پیروز باشید و ایرانی»
Profile Image for Brian.
Author 1 book969 followers
February 21, 2015
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?
Profile Image for Ryan Lawson.
65 reviews5 followers
October 20, 2009
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 time, "How had I not been exposed to this book or Richard Wright?" And, it still escapes me how this masterpiece is not at the forefront (if not, the very front) of not only American Literature but more specifically African-American Literature. I've yet to read a piece that surpasses the violent honesty of this book; and, perhaps, that is why it is not as much a part of the American-Literature Subconscious Canon. Wright's work isn't as tame as the weary Hughes and he manages to surpass the shocking tact of James Baldwin.

Bigger Thomas is a murderous and rapacious young man who through his horrendous acts of rape, theft, and violence somehow manages to elicit an amount of sympathy. Wright is able to portray him in such a light that makes the reader understand fully that Bigger is committing unconscionable crimes yet no matter how atrocious the crimes are not unforgivable.

There were times I felt guilty for rooting for Bigger Thomas, but that is the mastery in Wright's writing! Bigger is such an uncanny character that it is next to impossible to not feel sympathy for him.

"Why?" I kept asking myself. "Why do I not want this man's head on a plate?"

It's as if Bigger is in a nightmare but is unable to wake up. If you've ever been in a situation so bad, so unbearable that you actually wished it to be a terrible dream then you will understand Bigger. You'll beg for him to stop committing these crimes instead of demanding him to be caught and killed.

The mob mentality in this book is frightening and dark, darker than Bigger Thomas himself. To think that some of Bigger's case was based on an actual trial of a man named Robert Nixon is almost unbelievable. The hate is so gigantic within the mob.

As a reader, you really get to see how minorities (blacks), laborers (unions), and people with differing social opinions (socialist & communists) have been and, sometimes, still are persecuted by mass mentality... The tragedy is that the mass mentality is controlled by an elite few. This book offers a dramatic understanding of how those in power maintain a steady hand on their subordinates and pit each subordinate against one another so they do not focus on the real monsters, the employers! It bears witness to the class-struggle of the times and the class-struggles that are still occurring today.

Bless this book. It's a good one.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,205 reviews145 followers
January 1, 2023
“Why they make us live in one corner of the city? Why don’t they let us fly planes and run ships …”

Bigger Thomas was not a nice man by any standards. Any reader, man or woman, regardless of their skin colour – black, white, red, yellow – would encounter significant difficulty thinking of Thomas in more charitable terms than the description penned by the “editor of the Jackson Daily Star, regarding Bigger Thomas’ boyhood there.” He wrote, ”Thomas comes of a poor [ ] family of a shiftless and immoral variety. He was raised here and is known to local residents as an irreformable sneak thief and liar. We were unable to send him to the chain gang because of his extreme youth.” A childhood criminal, in other words, who followed his destiny to a court trial facing charges as a sociopathic and unrepentant adult multiple murderer and rapist.

No reader will shed a tear over Bigger Thomas. How could they? No reader will have a moment’s sympathy for Mr Thomas. Nor will any reader empathize in any way with his plight. But, make no mistake. This is entirely as Richard Wright wanted it to be. When NATIVE SON readers turn the final page, it was always Richard Wright’s hope that any disgust, any dismay, any heartbreak, any sorrow, any embarrassment, any shock, any anger, any emotion at all that a reader might experience, would arise out of his portrayal and scathing indictment of 1930s white American culture. It was not intended to generate pious pity for the black people who were forced to endure that culture. Indeed, the wealth of the white Dalton family and their use of it in ostensibly helping the local black population in Chicago, which THEY saw as pitiable, was demonstrated to be nothing more than ostentatious, sanctimonious and self-serving. The metaphorical equivalent, if you will, of donating a few scraps of fish from time to time for a meager meal, while refusing to allow a black man the right to fish, denying him the ability to learn to fish, refusing to give him the right to own the equipment necessary to go fishing for himself, and forbidding him any access to the water in which the fish lived.

Wright’s portrayal of the nature, the depth, and the completeness of the racism systemic to white American Jim Crow culture in the early 20th century will assuredly take any reader’s breath away. But that hatred was not the only target at which he aimed his talent.

The anti-Semitism that some might have considered to be endemic in North American white Christian culture at the time demonstrated that Hitler’s WW II final solution and attempted genocide in the Holocaust did not happen in a global vacuum.

Fear of Stalin’s Russia and his brand of Communism led to the labeling of any variation of left-wing social thinking in America as Communism. Even those progressive thinkers who advocated for such things as minimum wages, de-segregation, or fair housing bought into the belief that they were espousing Communism. They willingly (and fearfully, I dare say) proclaimed themselves to be members of a North American version of the Communist Party. The continuing propensity of the hard-core right-wing in the USA to label the likes of AOC, Ilhan Omar, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren as misguided, anti-American Commies did not happen overnight!

NATIVE SON is not an entertaining novel for even a single paragraph. NATIVE SON is a bleak and discouraging novel to read from start to finish. But it is instructive and informative, evocative and thought-provoking. The closing address to the jury by Jewish Lawyer, Boris Max, in which he pleads for mercy for his client and advocates for life imprisonment over execution is positively riveting. Whether it will be persuasive for any dedicated members of the modern right community who persist in their belief that blacks are a sub-standard variation of humankind is an open question.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Esteban del Mal.
191 reviews64 followers
August 10, 2010

I’ve been putting off writing a review of this for two reasons:

1.) I'm busy.
2.) I wanted to cool off a bit, not let any of that nebulous white guilt creep into my thinking.


This book has heft, both physical and otherwise. The paper stock, the binding, the subject matter --- they combine for one weighty tome. I came to terms with the material dimensions quickly. The other dimensions? Not so much. I mean, I'm an ethnic Jew, but I identify (and pass, thankfully) as your run-of-the-mill white American guy. And white guys have it pretty good (thanks, jo). Typically at the expense of others, and most notably blacks. The understanding of my natural advantages in society necessitates that there is, and ever will be, a divide between my experience in society and that of a similarly constituted African-American. I try to bridge that divide as best I can. Richard Wright has helped me.

Wright walks a fine line expertly. His protagonist, Bigger Thomas, is more sociopath than oppressed racial minority for a good one hundred sixty pages. But then the hammer drops. We overhear the words of an investigating detective:

"Well, you see 'em one way and I see 'em another. To me, a nigger's a nigger."

Welcome to circa 1940s America, where the best you can hope for if you happen to have x-amount of melanin in your skin is to be a barely literate chauffeur to wealth and condescension. Systematically degraded, you lash out and you kill. Is it any wonder?

Just as there is a gulf in my understanding of what it is to be black in America, there is a gulf in Bigger Thomas's understanding of what it is to be a human -- because he has never been fully recognized as one. There is a convergence in nature and nurture that sets him on the path to murder. Already predisposed to be the neighborhood bully, the conditions in which he is raised hone those native instincts into something hard. Hard enough to suffocate a woman, chop her head off and stuff her remains into an oven. Hard enough to bludgeon another woman -- his girlfriend -- to a pulp with a brick and dump her body four floors down a ventilation shaft. Hard enough to spurn his grizzled communist defense attorney, who recognizes Bigger's murderous intransigence in the end, his courtroom elegance giving away to stammering disbelief in the face of what America has created, what it will continue to create after Bigger is executed.

Things have changed since the 40s, to be certain. In fact, I even found myself working under a black man for a day as I read this book. His job was to follow me around and gauge my efficiency. It sounds worse than it was -- I've grown accustomed to being demeaned myself, I guess. And, happy corporate cog that I am, I am exceptionally efficient, so I have nothing in the (short-term) to worry about and dutifully jump through my assigned hoop because I have a wife and a child and a mortgage and a college loan andandand.

As my shift progressed, this stranger and I inevitably started to connect on a human level and social and work barriers grew less opaque. When the time arrived for us to drive to an area infamous for its racism, I told him about it because he was from out of town. I told him how I had managed a liquor store there years ago and transferred one of my clerks, an African-American woman, because she had been threatened on the job by a skinhead. I told him about how I had had to call building maintenance to paint over assorted white power graffiti, most notably a swastika, on the company building there. I told him how I had once pulled up in front of the office at midnight and looked across the narrow, two-lane street to see a family of white trash -- father, mother, pre-pubescent boy -- huddled together on a lawn as a garden hose dangled from the father's hands, the lot of them staring at me in a scene reminiscent of American Gothic, and feeling for days afterwards how fragile the flame of civilization is. I told him how when we had an African-American co-worker, it was understood that she wasn't allowed to travel to the office alone.

When we arrived there, I did my thing and it was time for lunch. I had a momentary pang of dread as I took the book from my backpack, what with all this race bullshit ambient around the two of us. When he asked me what I was reading and I told him, he responded simply, "Good book." Things seemed a bit more somber between us after that. Not because either of us intended it, but just because it was.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nathan Paul.
20 reviews
January 30, 2010
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 on far too long (in my opinion), and never gave the reader much reason to sympathize with the main character. Main characters do not have to be "good guys", of course, but they should at least be interesting! There was nothing about Bigger that made me curious to know why he became the type of person he was. Of course, this book does have a good message (in some ways) about how racism can damage people both directly and indirectly. However, I think Wright should have created a more complex protagonist that the readers could have at least understood in some way.
Profile Image for Albert.
357 reviews47 followers
January 10, 2023
As I review the books I read I look at each reading experience as part of a journey. Where does this book fit in? How does it fit in? Has it changed my perspective on life? That is why I have gone from early in my GR experience where I did not review books or only reviewed the occasional book to now reviewing everything I read. Yes, reviewing a book helps me to remember what I have read and to understand what I have read. But more importantly, for me, reviewing a book helps me to fit that book into what I have previously read and influences what I will read in the future.

I don’t know why I have never read this novel before. Certainly I have been aware of it for many, many years. How did I not read it as part of one of my literature classes? Also, I found that I was not even familiar with the general plot? And, Oh was I shocked! A novel published in 1940, written by a black man about a young black man of 20, Bigger Thomas. A novel that contains violence as ugly and horrible as anything I have recently read. A novel that denies us any desire or motivation to sympathize with Bigger. This novel demands that we look at Bigger’s actions from all perspectives and asks who is responsible for his actions and the position in which he finds himself. I think that is what Wright accomplished with this novel. We must look at the results and not explain them with easy answers nor suggest corrective actions that will not change those results.

I know some readers found this novel hard to put down, continually wanting to find out what happened next. I felt that I knew the end at the beginning, and while the novel read easily, I often found myself picking it up with dread, not wanting to find out what happened next. To Richard Wright’s credit, the novel provides no easy answers but makes you think about actions, consequences and all the many variables that impact the two. Looking at our world today, especially in the United States, it is clear that this novel is as relevant today as it was in 1940.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,063 reviews697 followers
February 18, 2017
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 the mainstream of American life. It's a view of the ghetto from the standpoint of one of it victims. Feelings of anger and hate are described with visceral realism. It attacks the old taboo of mentioning the relationships between sex, race, and violence.

Then in the final third of the book the intermingling of the powers and promises of religion, capitalism, racism, and communism is explored with explicit thoroughness. The summary arguments of the defense counsel at the trial near the book's end is long and passionate in which the argument is made that the violent criminal acts of this defendant are products of our unfairly segregated society which predictably has led to anger and resentment. The countering summary arguments by the prosecution are equally passionate maintaining the position of the blind justice in a nation of laws.

There are two conversations between Bigger Thomas, the book's protagonist, and his defense attorney in which Bigger discovers for the first time a glimpse of what perhaps may be purpose and meaning in life. Ironically, this life changing experience occurs shortly before his life is to be ended by execution.

The first conversation occurs before the trial when the attorney asks Bigger, "Tell me about yourself." The subsequent recounting of his life's dreams and disappointments creates feelings that are new and have not previously been experienced by Bigger.

After the trial is over there is a second conversation between the two in which Bigger strives to revisit these new feelings and insights. There's something about these conversations I find particularly poignant, but it's difficult to explain why.

Could the tragedy of this story have been avoided if these sorts of conversations have occurred earlier? Or is it the message of this book that these conversations cannot take place when needed because of society's structural flaws?

Considering the year that this book was published in 1940, the ideas explored in this book were particularly prophetic in light of the civil rights movement that appeared in the second half of the twentieth century.
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
4,828 reviews651 followers
March 11, 2023
There are three books (that I am aware of) that deal with ‘ideated murder’: The Stranger by Albert Camus, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Native Son by Richard Wright. I define ideated murder as murder in which the victim is a representation/manifestation of a metaphysical problem that has contributed to the murderer committing the (external) act. The story of Bigger Thomas deals with ideated murder better than the two other books mentioned: because of the three works cited he is truly a 'stranger' to the whole mechanism of 'crime and punishment' that he is trapped in. Highest recommendation.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,426 reviews8,336 followers
December 9, 2015
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, leading to a violent cycle he cannot escape.

Wright does a fantastic job of showing many things: the political, economic, and interpersonal disadvantages faced by blacks, the way society will capitalize on dis-empowering the underprivileged, and the possible reclamation of self-governance that blacks can assert with effort and time. However, I most appreciated his commitment to revealing the inner workings of Bigger's brain. He captures the psychological repercussions of racism and how prejudice contributes to Bigger's actions. Wright does not render Bigger likeable; rather, he uses Bigger's character as an exploration of externalized and internalized racism. The depth in which Wright writes Bigger's inner world reveals the fraught complexities inherent within an oppressed person's psyche.

Overall, another great read in my Social Protest Lit course, and recommended to those interested in the psychology and sociology of race relations. I wrote a seven-page-paper on Native Son, so it has a ton of quality material, even though some of that material may make you squirm - or shake - in fury and/or disgust.
Profile Image for Keertana.
1,126 reviews2,161 followers
April 5, 2013
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 as if you’re not even human, to be denied your basic rights at freedom, and to be stripped of all your free will? In Native Son, Richard Wright takes you into the mind of one black man, Bigger Thomas. Yet, Bigger stands for something bigger; he represents all of black America. So truly, Wright isn’t just taking you into Bigger’s mind, he’s taking you into the heart of racial crisis.

Bigger has been recognized in life as a troubled boy, one who lashes out. He has been raised in a small apartment that isn’t fit to hold two people, let alone four. His education is scarce and limited, his fear overwhelms him, and he constantly feels as if white people control his every move, his every action, his every thought. Thus, these feelings and instincts have bubbled over to such an extent where he lashes out. He accidently smothers a white woman, chops off her head and throws her body in a furnace to burn. He takes a brick and hits his girlfriend with it, throwing her down an air shaft to freeze to death – all after he has raped her. He blames his actions on a Communist, one of the few people helping him – the same Communist who ultimately finds him a lawyer. Max, the lawyer who sees Bigger as an equal and exposes in a biased courtroom not what Bigger has done, but what America and society has created and will unfortunately continue to create, long after Bigger’s untimely demise.

In the writing of Native Son, Wright walks a fine line. Bigger, despite being the main character of the novel is so hard to feel any sympathy for. Wright has created a character who is black, who is oppressed, who is quite literally a victim of the society in which he lives, yet Bigger acts like a sociopath with animalistic instincts and no regret for the inhumane acts he commits. However, Wright takes this view of Bigger, this interpretation of him, and turns it into something different: understanding. In a world where you can only hope and pray to have skin that is lighter than what you already have, in which you can only stand and dream about flying planes because of your skin color, who wouldn’t lash out and kill? Who wouldn’t seize that first glimpse of power and authority when they find it? Wright describes the ongoing power struggles within this novel, mixed with the rising fear so perfectly, that you cannot help but be in awe of his skill. Although most readers will find Bigger to be a sociopath or cruel and unyielding at first, reading on we can see that he is truly a man being treated just like a caged animal.

In so many ways Native Son is such a difficult book to read. It took me nearly a month to finish it because of the time I took reading each chapter and more importantly, the reflection it caused me to have. I’ve tried and found it impossible to find any situation in our present-day life that is similar to that of Bigger. I’ve never felt the way he does, I’ve never been treated the way he has since I’ve always been seen as a human. I’m not white, so in that aspect I never felt guilt of my skin color while reading this story, because truly, being white means you have it all. However, I did feel an immense amount of sympathy towards Bigger and I still can’t quite wrap my mind around what it must feel like to never have been treated as a human, as an equal to all other people in the world. It breaks my heart.

Wright once said that, "'I must write this novel, not only for others to read, but to free myself of this scene of shame and fear.' In fact, the novel, as time passed, grew upon me to the extent that I became a necessity to write it; the writing of it turned into a way of living for me." In many ways, the reading of this novel too became a necessity. It became something I had to do, I felt obliged to do. I felt as if I owed it to Bigger, to history, and to the suffering black people of the past and present to read and understand Bigger’s story. I cannot recommend this book enough, but just know that once you pick it up, you won’t be able to look at the world the same way again.
Profile Image for ☆Pelumi☆.
263 reviews308 followers
May 20, 2021
I remember reading this book a long time ago(it was recommended by our school)....a lot of people cried after reading this and I wasn't any different
This book is quite controversial and was received with mixed feeling but even reading it again I still feel Bigger's pain and suffering
The setting took place when racism against blacks was far more pronounced and celebrated....it was a horrible moment
I feel like there were some aspects where bigger would have made different choices but even then his wrong choices felt like what he had to do such as a black person....it was awful
If things were different perhaps bigger won't have been where he was and hence not do what he did!!
Profile Image for Vince Will Iam.
148 reviews27 followers
June 12, 2020
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 female involved and those long-haired Reds handing out pamphlets on the sly, you can guess this is not going to be pretty...

The story is centered on the character of Bigger Thomas, a tough black youngster who wants to feel but once in his lifetime that he exists. Up to the moment when he is caught back by fear and distrust, the most natural feelings he has ever experienced when dealing with white people.

Mr Max's final speech will be forever etched in my memory. A burning appeal for freedom and opportunities for all. It takes much courage to tackle racial issues as Wright did.
We're in 2020 and my heart was rending while reading this, just to imagine what it must have been for the mid-20th century reader makes me giddy.

I heartily recommend it especially in the light of what is happening these days in the US --the Amy Cooper incident and the likes are quite revealing in this respect. You can't go wrong with Native Son. Bigger Thomas will be haunting me for a while. This is literature at its very best.
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