Why “Native Son” Totally Stresses Me Out
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:
He felt that all of his life had been leading to something like this. It was no longer a matter of dumb wonder as to what would happen to him and his black skin; he knew now. The hidden meaning of his life–a meaning which others did not see and which he had always tried to hide–had spilled out. No; it was no accident, and he would never say that it was. There was in him a kind of terrified pride in feeling and thinking that some day he would be able to say publicly that he had done it. It was as though he had an obscure but deep debt to fulfill himself in accepting the deed. … Things were becoming clear; he would know how to act from now on. The thing to do was just act like others acted, live like they lived, and while they were not looking, do what you wanted.
Now, that last sentence is quite intelligent in a manipulative kind of way. But, to get to this point, Bigger has done a lot of amazingly dumb stuff, which started with accidentally killing a girl.
I’m not sure if Richard Wright wants me to feel compassion for Bigger at this point–considering the context of Bigger’s situation–but I don’t. Not just because he made a mistake, but because of the gruesome, brutal nature in which he covers up that mistake and continues to cover up that mistake.
I’ve been told he’s a compassionate character, and I’ll grow to feel for him. I hope that happens–because at this point, man, I am frustrated.
Have you ever felt that way about a character?
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