Keegan Talty Mrs.

Scallion The Significance of Bigger’s Fear, Flight, and Fate

18 May 2007 English II Adv. H

Richard Wright breaks down his novel the Native Son into three parts. He names the parts Fear, Flight, and Fate, and in each book, a series of significant events occur to its’ main character, Bigger Thomas. Each event is connected and has a hidden significance in which Bigger learns something crucial about himself and society. The first section of the Native Son is called Fear. The first incident where Bigger encounters fear happens almost immediately. While he is in his cramped home, changing in the same room as his mother, brother, and sister, a rat darts out to the room. Bigger is implored by his mother to kill the rat, and after many futile efforts, kills the rat with a skillet and crushes its’ head. “The rat’s belly pulsed with fear…it attacked” (Wright 6), implies that even though the rat is afraid, it will still attack. Bigger enjoys the battle he has with the rat because it gives him a sense of power. Richard Wright shows that Bigger enjoys having power and playing to others weaknesses, “Bigger laughed and approached the bed with the dangling rat, swinging it…enjoying his sister’s fear” (Wright 7). The need for Bigger to feel powerful may come from the oppressed society he lives in. At one point, Bigger and his friend Gus ‘play white’. Because of the oppression felt by Bigger, “what is missing in Bigger’s life is the element of exploit or heroic action” (Bone 482), and by ‘playing white’, allows him the opportunity to pretend he has a purpose in society. The Native Son reaches one of its most exciting and influential moments later on in Fear. Bigger accepts a job as a driver for a wealthy white family, the Dalton’s. On his first night, he is supposed to drive Mary Dalton to university, but she

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tells him to drive her somewhere else, where they meet up with Jan, who is a Communist. Bigger does not have the option to ignore Mary’s orders because of his position in society, and he fears what will happen to him if he goes against society. Mary and Jan get drunk, and when Bigger takes Mary home, she cannot walk up the stairs without falling. As a result, Bigger takes her up to her room and lays her on her bed. Mrs. Dalton, who is blind, enters and Bigger freezes with fear. He covers up Mary’s face with a pillow so she would not give away his position in the room. In 1930s Chicago, a black man in the room of a white woman would automatically be accused of rape, and Bigger knew this. Therefore, Bigger ends up killing Mary and then tries to hide her body and all the clues. However, Bigger may have killed Mary subconsciously for a “philosophical motive” (Bone 482). Because of the oppressed society and the fact that Bigger does not have much option for what he can do he “will assert his claim through extralegal means” (Bone 482) and by killing Mary, begins a cycle for his claim. Richard Wright even hints at what Bigger’s claim is through his name, “[the] symbolism of Bigger’s name…[he] seeks a challenge worthy of his manhood; [he] insists on something ‘bigger; then the cramped conditions of his ghetto life” (Bone 482). Bigger wants a chance to be great, and he “find[s] a larger and more meaningful only through violence and crime” (Bone 482), and Bigger feels like he has a greater purpose and that he is finally living. Before Bigger killed, he was “reduced to a shadowy presence in the white mans’ mind” and “murders in order to become real and make the white world acknowledge his existence” (Bone 482). Bigger wants to make a name for himself and show the white world that their perception of the black world is wrong. They are humans too, but the majority of the white community refuses to acknowledge their humanity, because they are black and

Talty are believed to be savage beasts. “The white world blots out his reality, [so] he will blot out the reality of the white world” (Bone 482), because Bigger feels the need to become bigger than what is expected of him and because he wants to rise above the oppression. After Bigger gets rid of all the clues of his murder, “Bigger becomes an ‘outlaw hero’” (Bone 482). Bigger plays off his innocence very well, and throws off suspicions that would point him to Mary’s sudden disappearance. Bigger talks to his girlfriend Bessie, and she unknowingly gives him an idea. He decides to write a kidnap note, posing as a Communist, and asking for a large sum of money. Bigger plans everything,

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right down to how the people around him will act. Bigger is very adept at reading people and figuring out how they will react. This gives Bigger an advantage over people and gives him the opportunity to plan ahead. Bigger “discovers a new purpose and freedom of action” (Bone 482) and his potential to read people accurately. “As a murderer…[he] acquires a new conviction of worth [and] superiority” (Bone 482) which he discovers when wakes up the morning after he murders Mary. “He looked around the room, seeing it for the first time” (Wright 105). Bigger’s eyes are opened for the first time in his life and he begins to really look at things. Bigger does this because he realizes that he needs to know anything and everything that will happen. While eating breakfast, Bigger starts comparing his surroundings to those of the Dalton’s. He also compares his own family to white people. He comes to the conclusion that they are “blind…he saw…a certain stillness, an isolation, and meaningless” (Wright 108). There is a certain irony here because before Mary’s murder, Bigger “felt strangely blind” (Wright 48), but after “he feels like everyone else around him is blind” (Kearns 1). Bigger considers himself above them because he has gone against the society. He calls the members of his family blind

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because they just go through their lives, doing what they always do and staying under the radar. They wouldn’t be expected to act against society and the white world. There is a distinct connection between the books Fear and Flight. Like the rat, Bigger attacks whenever he is fearful; however, unlike the rat, Bigger kills. The trouble caused by killing Mary eventually leads to Bigger’s plot being found out. He thought he had everybody read, but what he did not read was his own fear. His failure to clean out the grate where he burned Mary led everyone to the web of lies he had created. As a result, Bigger is forced to flee and meets with Bessie and calls off the plan. While they are hiding, Bigger rapes Bessie, searching for that control he had lost sight of. He needed to feel in control of a situation, which had gotten so desperate for him. Book three, which is called Fate, because Bigger’s fate is decided. “Wright demonstrates the tortures which human beings suffer when their abstract, theoretical, and symbolic existence is in conflict with the concrete realities of their lives” (Kearns 1). After Bigger is captured, he refuses to eat for days and he faints in court. The main idea of Fate is the fact that Bigger “searches for his personal identity” (Kearns 1). In solitude, Bigger does a lot of thinking. He realizes that he denied himself while living with his family and he separated himself from them. “If he becomes fully aware of the meaning of is life, he may destroy himself” (Kearns 1), so Bigger shut out the truth. Bigger goes through a realization of killing Mary and he discovers that he must have had some purpose. “She was not real to him, not a human being” (Wright 108) and Bigger was nothing to her. He realizes he was “a symbol to her—the oppressed Negro…her first personal chauffeur to the black world” (Kearns 1). When Jan comes to Bigger in his cell, he tells Bigger that it is his right to hate him and that he doesn’t blame him. However,

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Jan also does not feel sorry for him. This hits Bigger pretty hard because he realizes that Jan is treating him like an equal and like a human being. While the papers try to pass Bigger off as a monster, Bigger “perceives a unity” (Kearns 1) between himself and Jan. After hearing Max defend Bigger, he felt proud. He never had a white man stick up for him before, and that gives Bigger reason to trust Max. He opens up to Max and speaks to him in a way he hasn’t spoken to anyone else, “he had discovered that he had spoken to Max as he had never spoken to anyone in his life; not even to himself” (Wright 359). In a way, Bigger steps out from behind the curtain and wall he used to protect himself and accepts Max’s help because Max gives him faith. The connection Bigger feels between himself and Max is something he wants to hold onto, something that he wants to learn more about and understand; “But he was not interested in hating them now. He had to die. It was more important for him to find out what this new tingling, this new elation, this new excitement meant” (Wright 363). Bigger wanted to figure out what it was before he died, because if he didn’t “he would have lost all if he had to die without fully feeling it, without knowing for certain” (Wright 363). Bigger realizes that he does not want to die, but he knows it is inevitable, and after talking with Max, he breaks down and cries. Bigger ended up losing and was sentenced to death, but he had already accepted it. Max made one last futile attempt to get the governor to change his mind. Bigger has a final talk with Max, and Max explains to him that he wanted Bigger to believe, because without belief, he has nothing. He tells Bigger that people hate him because they are afraid and “they want to keep what they own, even if it causes others to suffer” (Wright 427). In the end up, Bigger believes that what he killed for must have been for a good reason and he is no longer scared. Bigger wants to “look for something to believe in”

Talty (Bone 483) and he turns away from traditional religious beliefs. Bigger believes that his reason for killing was to break down the barrier between the white and black

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communities. Bigger then “establishes his identity as a murderer….[it] cuts him[self] off from the human community” (Bone 483). This belief allows Bigger to face his fate alone, but without fear. Bigger changes through the different events in the Native Son. He finally believes that he has fulfilled his purpose and dreams. Through the events, he completes a quest for values and he learns more about himself and society than he knew before.

Talty Works Cited Bone, Robert. “Richard Wright.” American Writers IV. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974.

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Kearns, Edward. "The 'Fate' Section of Native Son." no. 2(Spring 1971) 17 May 2007<http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/LitRC?locID=bron260 82&srch tp=ttl& c=2&NR=wrig>.

Wright, Richard. Native Son. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1940.

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