Sydney Epsilon 11/6/07

Culminations and Breakthroughs
Restraints are present in order to inhibit human interaction, action, and growth. Restraints hold a different connotation for different people, but no matter what that connotation is, they all hold something in common and that is that they tend to be figures or ideas that control and influence everything that we do, whether it is a lack of selfconfidence or an oppressive government. Even though restraints are viewed as

something negative, they can also be---if harnessed correctly---turned into chances for growth, understanding, and a means to do something positive. This was the case with Bigger Thomas the main character in the novel Native Son by Richard Wright. The restraints in Bigger’s life controlled both his actions and his thoughts, and as the book progressed, Bigger was able to break through those restraints by using them as catalysts to new thoughts. One of the ideas that Bigger had to break through was one that held a lot of respect and power in not only the Black community but in the U.S in general; the idea was Religion. Religion often times offer solace and a sense of continuity; contact with something that transcends the problems of the nation. In the 1930’s the African American community used the solace that religion provided to comfort themselves from Racism. In their times of need they turned to religion because it became a wall of protection from the harshness of what was happening to them. In Native Son, Religion manifested it self through Bigger’s mother, and her preacher Reverend Hammond. After Bigger was

incarcerated for killing Mary Dalton, Reverend Hammond, on behalf of Biggers mother went to visit Bigger in his cell, “ Take yo’ mind off ever’thing but eternal life. Fergit whut the newspapers say. Fergit yah’s black. God looks past yo’ skin ‘n inter yo’ soul, son. He’s lookin’ at the only parta yuh tha’s His. He wants yuh ‘n’ He loves yuh. Give yo’se’ft’ ‘Im, son” (Wright, 283). Reverend Hammond comforted Bigger in the face of death, his message was the physical world was not what mattered, and that it was the afterlife that did. The reason was because Adam and Eve caused men to fall under God’s bad graces and Jesus came to earth to show people the way back to god. “ …eat not of the fruit of the trees in the midst of the garden, neither touch it, lest ye die…Man wanted t’ know why ‘n’ he fell from light t’ darkness, from love t’ damnation…He’d show us a way back t’ ‘Im. his son Jesus came …put on human flesh ‘n’ lived ‘n’ died t’ show us the way…This worl’ ain’ our home” (Wright, 284-285). The mentality that the physical didn’t matter and only the metaphysical did was because the black community couldn’t change what was happening to them, but they still needed the motivation and strength to live, which turned them to the continuity and transcendence that religion offered. In a similar way, White Society pushed and pulled religion in a way that would benefit them as well, especially when it came to why society was racist and why it was right to oppress the Black community. The white society has looked to the bible since the beginning of slavery to justify the enslavement of the black people. One of their main arguments was that Blacks were the descendents of Canaan, it refers to the curse that Ham's father Noah placed upon Ham's son Canaan, after Ham "saw his father's nakedness”. "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. He also said, 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. (Old

Testament) in Genesis 9:25-27. The "curse of Ham" has been used to justify racism and the enslavement of people of African ancestry. And since religion was such a concrete part of life---with the help of the stock market crash---for the people of the 1930’s it was acceptable to oppress blacks, and that idea was kept through the law making process, and because laws applied to everyone, the laws affected Bigger. After the civil war and slavery ended, there was a period of restoration. During the Reconstruction period of 1865-76, federal law provided civil rights protection in the South for free African-Americans. After reconstruction Jim Crow laws followed. The laws separated the races. Jim Crow Laws mandated "separate but equal" status for black Americans. The Jim Crow era (1876-1965) laws required that public schools, public places and public transportation, like trains and buses, have separate facilities for whites and blacks. Jim Crow laws presented itself as a good idea, the American society got to coexist but in their separate worlds. But, in actuality the civil rights and opportunities for African Americans were greatly restricted. The Jim Crow laws became a second

installment of slavery. Bigger Thomas lived in this era, more specifically 1930’s Chicago. Through the course of the book the reader can see and feel the impact that these laws had on Bigger, not only his life but also his mentality, philosophy, and actions. One of the very first examples of this oppression and inability to breath came very early in the novel, “‘Godddammit!’ ‘What’s the matter?’ ‘They don’t let us do nothing’ ‘Who?’ ‘The white folks.’…Goddammit. look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain’t. they do things we can’t It’s just like living in jail. Half the time I feel like I’m on the outside of the world peeping in through a knothole in the fence” (Wright, 19-20). In this passage, Bigger was talking to his friend Gus about the

state that they live in, after having seen an airplane and playing “white” Bigger voiced his opinion. This passage acts as a precursor to what Bigger is going to do because as humans there is only so much a they can take before they rupture, and what the readers didn’t know was if it was going to be positive or negative.

Later Bigger murders Mary Dalton and his girlfriend Bessie. But, even though he commits these murders, the readers also sympathize with him because he was controlled so strongly by the era. These incidents gave insight to how it would feel to live in the Jim Crow era as an African American person. Through the detail and the ability to see and feel the thought in Biggers head, the atmosphere of the era is passed on to the reader and the sense of confusion and anger and wanting shrouded by an over all sense of urgency is what becomes the first wall and step that Bigger has to surpass. Throughout the book there are numerous occasions where the control has taken over Bigger. For example, Mrs. Dalton being the spark that caused the accidental death or Mary Dalton, or why Bigger felt so liberated after the killing. Bigger felt liberated, because it was the first time in his entire life that he was able to do something that wasn’t decided for him. He did something that was not put there by someone else, even if that thing was killing. Biggers personality was derived from the author Richard Wright’s life, whether it was people he met or his own personal experiences like those in his essay “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow”. “When I told my folks at home what had happened, they called me a fool. They told me that I must never again attempt to exceed my boundaries. When you are working for white folks, they said, you got to ‘stay in your place’ If you want to keep working” (Wright, 173). This passage sums up the true purpose of the Jim Crow laws, to keep the African American population in their place but to also break their spirits to the

point where they stay in their places themselves.

This is the sort of experience that

heavily influenced the creation of Bigger Thomas, because unlike everyone else Bigger was different because he physically and mentally was disturbed by the idea of being in “a place” but, he didn’t know what to label that emotion and thought. Even though others had questions and were frustrated, they did not feel it as hard physically as Bigger. Instead, Wright made Bigger do something extreme that would jolt the nation out of slumber. Just like the time and Bigger an extreme change of events was going to take

place, like a Revolution.

Tempers can only be neglected and tested to a certain point until they explode; a temper leads to a fight of some sort, social restraints lead to revolutions. The suppression or oppression of ones temper, personality, actions, ideas, or dreams leads to a place on uncertainty, where anything can happen. Langston Hughes—a prominent writer both today and during the Harlem Renaissance—wrote a poem that questions the result of mental suppression.

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore— And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over— like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?” Langston Hughes presents the possibilities of the destinations of the suppressed ideas, temper, personality, actions, and dreams. But, moreover this poem represents the people who were internally suppressed. Those who had their dreams dry up like a raisin in the sun could be a shell of a person. They are empty but physically they are here, or mentally they age rapidly and become old even if they are physically in their prime. Those whose dreams crust and sugar over might be people in denial of what is happening to them. When the pain of what is going on gets to be to much it’s put into the back of their minds and they act as if nothing is going on. And of course in the end there are also those who can no longer retain themselves and they need to find a release no matter what it is. Bigger is a person whose dreams exploded. He needed a release and he found on in murder. Later, the dreams of the African Americans all exploded which lead to the Civil rights movement. The idea of Revolution has been present in society, even in 1930’s Chicago when it seemed that life would be as it was for the rest of time. At this time, along side the victims of oppression were the members of the Communist Party. In the 1930’s the communist party in Chicago was especially strong amongst the youth especially the university students who attended the University of Chicago. The communist party was the brainchild of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles. They had then written a book called

the Communist Manifesto. Marx and Engles had created the Marxist (communist) ideals and the manifesto by noticing and observing the discrepancies between the rich and the poor and from that, the ideas developed into those who are oppressed and those who are the oppressors, “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary reconstruction of society at large or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” (Marx and Engles, 34). This was the core idea of the

Communism; it was the recognition of differences between the people on top and those below regardless if that difference was race, money, gender, or anything else.

When the ideals of Communism entered the U.S the party appropriated it to the most pressing issue in the U.S and at the time it was Racism and the Poverty that came along with it. And because they noticed the oppression and the differences they wanted to change it. The idea of change is present in the character Jan Erlone—a member of the communist party and Mary Daltons boyfriend--,“ ‘We’ll own this some day, Bigger’ Jan said with a wave of his hand. ‘ After the Revolution it’ll be ours. But we’ll have to fight for it. What a world to win, Bigger! And when that day comes, things’ll be different. There’ll be no white and no black; there’ll be no rich and no poor.’” (Wright, 68)Racism and oppression was a way of life except, white America didn’t associate what they were doing to those words. This idea was so different that many times even the people who they wanted to help didn’t understand. In the book, that was one of the biggest walls that Bigger had to jump over, and because of that obstacle Bigger killed Mary because he couldn’t make the balance and understand what they were saying to him and how he was

raised his entire life. The difference between the two ideas were so great and the idea was so different that Bigger didn’t know how to take it, “ Did not white people despise Black skin? Then why was Jan doing this? Why was Mary standing there so eagerly, with shining eyes? …Maybe they did not despise him? But they made him feel his black skin by standing there and looking at him…” (Wright, 67) This conflict between his

upbringing and what Jan and Mary were presenting was the fuel for the actions of both Bigger and a point of contempt by the white society of 1930’s Chicago.

In the end Bigger comes to a lot of realizations that he would not have been able to reach if he had not gone through what he did. He got there with the help of his Communist lawyer Max, “ ‘You asked me questions nobody ever asked me before. You knew that I was a murderer two times over, but you treated me like a man…” (Wright, 424) The new heights that Bigger reached allowed him to have a different view on society. He understood the issues that he had to face in his life. And by reaching these new highs, and by having these realizations caused Bigger to break into a new life. “ ‘Mr. Max!’ Max paused, but did not look. ‘Tell….Tell Mister….Tell Jan hello….’” (Wright, 430). In this passage, Bigger said Jans name, but, what is interesting is that he stuttered. He was going to say Mr. Erlong but something inside him allowed him to say “Jan”. These two lines offered insight into the new mentality and life that Bigger has. He realized his place in society. He came to terms with racial equality and what that entails. He reached these heights with Communism and even though Communism did not last, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s carried out the idea of racial equality.

In life, it is the culmination of many different things that create who they are and

many times those things are very trying and the important part is to break through them. In the case of Bigger Thomas, religion, society, and Communism all played a part in creating who he was. Each subject evoked a certain type of emotion within Bigger and the three combined is what put Bigger on the path that he led. Ultimately, Bigger is sentenced to death, half of the novel is dedicated to Biggers incarceration and sentence. It was during this period of time that everything in his life came together and that was represented by the visitation of everyone he encountered in his life and ultimately in the end when he was able to say Jans name. Also, the pattern of writing changed, at the end of the book Bigger’s thoughts and the pace of the thoughts slowed down, he seemed more at peace with himself and the diction was free of anger and fear. In the end Bigger was sentenced to death he reached a place in his being that most don’t ever. And the lesson is to never let anything pass by in life that goes unexamined because that could have potentially changed you and the world around you if you could have acted.

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