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Native Son

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  77,549 ratings  ·  3,381 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
...more
Paperback, 504 pages
Published August 2nd 2005 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1940)
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Jeanette I'm several months late to respond, but I agree with Binta and Joyce. Read Native Son first. Native Son inspired me to read Black Boy, a book I'd…moreI'm several months late to respond, but I agree with Binta and Joyce. Read Native Son first. Native Son inspired me to read Black Boy, a book I'd otherwise not have picked up. I've selected Native Son for my library's book club August selection. (less)
Michele It was required reading for my American Authors class when I was in 12th grade. That was 1986 and I was 17 at the time. I was a VERY sheltered child…moreIt was required reading for my American Authors class when I was in 12th grade. That was 1986 and I was 17 at the time. I was a VERY sheltered child and it traumatized me a bit - the sex was glossed over but the violence and gore was not. Take that information as you may.(less)

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3.98  · 
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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
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Rowena
“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
Matthew
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
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Brina
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.
Samadrita
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
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Aubrey
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
Fabian
Feb 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
(SPOILERS!!) Reading the first two 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 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 ...more
Peter
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
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Brian
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?
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
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Esteban del Mal
Jul 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: americana, fiction, novel
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Richard
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
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
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
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Keertana
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
LATOYA JOVENA
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.
Thomas
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
David
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
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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."
4.5*
Bigger Thomas might be the most difficult character I've come across in fiction. Never have a I felt so un
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Ted
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.


. . . . . . . .
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Leonard
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.

Chicago
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog

But through the story of Bigger
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Joel
Aug 23, 2008 rated it liked it
Fascinating. I finished this book minutes before Barack Obama gave his nomination acceptance speech. What a different world today than it was when Wright wrote it. That's not to say the creation of Bigger Thomas isn't still happening around the country today, but advancements have happened and are worth celebrating.

I'm not in love with Wright's writing style. I read Black Boy in college and felt like it suffered from the same problems: overly preachy and wordy, with long drawn out speeches and l
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Evan
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
...more
Zoeytron
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Powerful. Unsettling. Originally published in 1940, the story is set in Chicago in the 1930's. A small-time criminal, Bigger Thomas is a young black man on a downhill slope, hurtling toward what you know will be a terrible end. Sullen, resentful, full of fear, he has a deep anger that eventually boils up and over, driving him to the horrific acts that will have him fighting for his life in the judicial system. I felt relieved upon finishing the book, actively glad it was over. I read it with a s ...more
Mary
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2019
Not at all the way I expected it to be. The first two-thirds almost felt like a riveting thriller; the final third was excruciatingly detailed and over-written. Overall, an excellent and still highly relevant novel.
Margaret
I've been trying to figure out what to say, write, or do in response the continuing cases of violence against black men by police in this country, the whole time feeling that I lacked a language or a reference point. Once again, literature is my way in to at least trying to understand a complex and foreign issue to me and it came at just the right time.

That's basically me trying to fancy up saying: read this now if you haven't already.

Bigger Thomas is a marginalized, poor young black man (his
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Chrissie
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
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Heidi
Apr 06, 2011 rated it did not like it
Thank goodness I'm finally done. I've read some bad "classics," but this one takes the cake.

Bigger, a young black man in the Chicago of what I believe is the 1940s, is trouble. His mother knows it, his sister knows it, and his friends know it. Even in the beginning of the book, before the major events start happening, Bigger plans an armed robbery (which he later didn't commit), terrorizes movie-goers, and beats up a friend, all in a single day.

Then he gets a job, a good job as a chauffeur for
...more
Toyin
Oct 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Native Son is a good novel with a compelling story about the racial division in America society. When I began reading the novel I contemplated that it was an hideous portrayal of African Americans; structuring them as murderers. However, upon reading the last book ,Fate, I began to understand Wright's gist on the racial biases. He uses Bigger to represent the predicament of all blacks during his time by exploring racism and its results on the oppressed. Bigger, the oppressed, does not see whites ...more
Alex
Oct 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Here is the scariest character in literature. Even Wright is terrified of him. I've read a lot of protest books, a lot of warnings, but most authors give you a way out: "Look out, but here's what you should maybe try to do." With Bigger Thomas, Wright says, "Well, here's what you got." And...holy shit, man.

He's such a powerful force that Wright spends the entire last third of his own book basically saying "Holy shit!" Which is why this only gets four stars from me; that "Holy shit" part is much
...more
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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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“Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread.” 708 likes
“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.” 131 likes
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