Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Literary Timeline Six Novel Ideas My Favorite Novel Elements of the Novel Top Novel Lists About the Program
Navigate through 200 years of the American Novel using scrollable tools and pulldown menus.
Use these pulldown menus to read more about novels, authors & movements.
Native Son
Native Son
NATIVE SON, by Richard Wright
Richard Wright's novel is a brutal picture of a poor black man, 20-year-old Bigger Thomas, incited to murder by the oppression and hatred of the white world. It explores inequality, racial conflict, and Wright's belief at the time that Communism was black Americans' best hope for equality. The novel is divided into three sections, called "books."

Bombarded with images of blacks as pitiable, savage creatures and whites as privileged, cultured overlords, Bigger regards whites as indistinguishable, a barricade to his advancement. He reacts with an explosive combination of fear and fury. The tragedy is set in motion in BOOK ONE: FEAR, when Bigger becomes a chauffeur for the wealthy white Dalton family. One night, Bigger has to carry the Daltons' daughter Mary into her bedroom because she is too drunk to walk. Mrs. Dalton, who is blind, enters the room. Convinced that he will be charged with rape, symbolically blinded by his visceral terror, Bigger accidentally suffocates Mary. In a panic, he burns her body in the furnace. But instead of being consumed by remorse, Bigger is elated: for the first time in his life, he has asserted his manhood against what he perceives to be the forces of whiteness arrayed against him. Ironically, while Bigger's violent actions spring from racism, his actions serve to intensify racism, as he validates white America's worst fear of blacks.

Previous | Next

The American Novel