Lengthy essays and journal articles could be written about the topic of today’s post. It reminds me a of something I might have chosen as a topic for a research paper in college.
Now, that I’ve done a horrible job of selling this post (after all, who doesn’t want to read research paper material at 7:30 in the morning?), let’s get to it. At least it’s not 30 pages, right?
As I’ve wrapped up An American Tragedy, I noticed a lot of similarities between it and another novel I read from the Time list—Native Son by Richard Wright.
The protagonist in each is a poor outcast who dreams of a better life. He’s grown up in a crappy environment and he’s envious of those who are better off. He’s a bit of a womanizer and gets involved in relationships that end tragically—sending him on the run and eventually to prison.
Famous literary critic Irving Howe compared An American Tragedy and Native Son this way:
Part of the challenge of trying to neatly review any book is attempting to understand the context around which the author wrote the story.
With Native Son by Richard Wright, I’m not sure if I’ve had a more difficult time understanding all the forces at play during the context in which this novel is set—in 1930s Chicago.
When Bigger Thomas, a 20-year-old African American boy, accidentally kills a rich white girl—the daughter of his new employer—all hell breaks loose in Chicago. But not only did Bigger murder, the manner in which he covers up the accidental murder is even more alarming than the murder itself.
Moms are the best.
Just think: Without Moms, where would be? Not here likely. Scratch that–we’d definitely not be here. I guess Dads have something to do with that, too, but Moms are so much cooler. At least most of them.
In Native Son, Bigger Thomas’ Mom is an amazing woman who does everything she can for her son–only to see him reduced to a life of laziness, street crime, and eventually murder. His actions wear on her to that point that, by the end of the novel, she almost seems incapable of living because of how he has treated her.
So, one of my many beefs with the character Bigger Thomas is the way his treats his mother. This passage highlight both Bigger’s feelings towards his family and his mother’s feelings towards him.
You might’ve guessed at some point that I’m a white guy. Maybe not. But, yeah, I’m a white guy.
I was born in 1976, when race relations in the U.S. were somewhat improving—at least in the sense that we were past the days of segregation and overt hostility. So when I read about some of the things African-Americans faced in the early part of the 20th century, it’s a real eye-opener for me.
That’s what I love about literature—it has a way of giving you a sense of time and place through the eyes of a character who is experiencing it all firsthand. Richard Wright’s Native Son does that brilliantly. I believe To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Tell It On Mountain are other great examples of this type of novel.
Some characters frustrate me to no end. They seem so likeable. You want to cheer for them. But then they make such stupid, stupid decisions.
Bigger Thomas from Native Son is a perfect example. Without going in-depth into plot, I’ll just say that the first half of this novel, though highly entertaining, has me thoroughly frustrated.
Bigger makes one stupid decision, then complicates things by making another stupid decision to cover up his first stupid decision. He then follows up those decisions by making three or four more stupid decisions. It’s stupid on top of stupid on top of stupid. And that’s a lot of stupid.
But in the middle of all that stupid, Bigger comes to a self-realization:
I’m eager to dive into Native Son, as I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.
Written by Richard Wright, the novel is widely regarded as the preeminent African-American work of fiction in the 20th century.
Native Son is referred to as a protest novel—one that intends to highlight the social injustice and racial inequality in America in the 1930s. The book tells the story of 20-year-old Bigger Thomas, a poor African-American in the Chicago ghetto who accidentally kills a white woman.
A few facts about the novel and Richard Wright: