Author BackgroundRichard Wright, whose pioneering descriptions of the hard life many young African Americans faced in the ghettos made him one of the first black novelists to win a major reputation in American literature, was born on a Mississippi plantation in 1908. His harsh childhood left a lasting impression and influenced his depiction of white society. (1) By his tenth birthday, his father, a sharecropper and a drunkard, had run off with a mistress; his uncle had been attacked by a mob of white men trying to seize his property; and his schoolteacher mother frequently had to move her family from town to town.
(2) Growing up in such chaotic circumstances, Wright took responsibility for his own education, and—through his writing—for his self-liberation. As an adult during the Great Depression, Wright joined the Communist Party. In Native Son he displays his dedication to the Party by depicting its members as benefactors. (2) Although protagonist Bigger Thomas initially opposes the Party and attempts to frame it for a crime, he changes his opinion when Max, his Communist lawyer, becomes the first white person to treat him as a human being.
Another Party member, Jan, also respects Bigger and even forgives him for murdering his girlfriend, Mary. Wright ultimately resigned from the party because of its attempts to censor his writing. (2) He eventually moved to Paris, where he died at the age of 52 on November 28, 1960. (1)StyleIn his postmodern novel Native Son, Richard Wright depicts his loathing for white society through Bigger Thomas, a young black American suffocated by the limitations imposed on his people. Tested beyond his limits by this evil society, Bigger ultimately collapses and murders two women.
Wright cleverly uses diction to reveal racism's destructive effects on his protagonist. Bigger becomes the condemnation that white society places on him; he is, indeed, a native son. The book's title is an ironic comment on Biggers's status in America---because he, like those around him, is a genuine native of the United States, and yet he is treated worse than a dog. The racism he faces eventually destroys him and many of those he encounters. Wright’s structure is simple yet powerful. The novel is divided into three sections – “Fear”, “Flight”, and “Fate” – each with its own climax.
“Fate” introduces a new character, the lawyer Max, who explains the meaning of Bigger’s Fear and Flight. Where most authors would leave the reader to arrive at his/her own interpretation of the book's events, Wright uses the book's third section to ensure that his very specific ideas are unambiguously conveyed. The bulk of the narrative is communicated in a stream-of-consciousness style, with flashbacks of Bigger's murders related as conventional narrative. This form enables Wright to tell his story succinctly, while leaving the reader in no doubt as to Biggers's thoughts and feelings.
The murders, unsurprisingly, are key events in the narrative; and ironically, Bigger feels liberated after committing them. In the book's third section, Max explains how Bigger's reaction to his crimes is a response to his oppression.