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Bigger Thomas: Growing Up In A White World

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.

Of Native Son, book critic Irving Howe said “The day Native Son appeared, American culture changed forever.” That’s impressive praise. And, honestly, as I finish up Native Son, I can understand that praise. Though I’m a little frustrated with the final third of the book (more to come on that), I think the story of Bigger Thomas is incredible.

Many of you have recommended Black Boy, which is Wright’s story of growing up in the early 20th Century in the southern U.S. I also discovered that PBS made a documentary about Wright’s life—also called Black Boy. The film details his early years, his time as part of the Communist Party (which I find alarming), and his years in Paris as an American expatriate.

If you’re interested, here’s a little more on The Black Boy documentary.

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have not read the book, but have read “To Kill a Mockingbird” and a few others that have the ability to slap you in the face with words about a time and people that are so important to know and understand. Yes, thank God for books!

    Like

    February 21, 2012
    • TKAM is a great example of providing context, I think. Love it.

      Like

      February 21, 2012
  2. I am reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. (which is on your list, so you will be reading it soon enough) is also a fantastic window into this race issue. As a white person born in the 90s and never really went through any of this its amazing to read about all of this. I have not read Native Son, but Invisible Man is awesome.

    Like

    February 21, 2012
    • I’ve actually read Invisible Man in college, and, yep, I’ll be reading it again for the list. Love that book.

      Like

      February 22, 2012
  3. I’m going to have to read Go Tell It on the Mountain. I just assigned my English 1010 class Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village” essay. They weren’t as into it as I was. This makes me sad, but they are mostly white and perhaps cannot yet appreciate the diversity of our nation and the struggles that many go through because of skin color or culture clashes. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Like

    February 21, 2012
    • Baldwin is one of my favorite writers to this point. I think you’ll like Go Tell It On The Mountain.

      Like

      February 22, 2012
  4. “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.”

    I am a white woman who was born, raised, and continue to live in Mississippi. Like you, I was born well-after the civil rights movement and my parents didn’t move here until a year before I was born, so they don’t have any first hand experiences they can tell me about. I was aware that there used to be segregation, but it’s not something that was ever gone into great detail in the history class at school.

    I will never forget the first time I accidentally stumbled on the story of Emmett Till. I was absolutely horrified.

    Like

    March 1, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. My Five Favorite Blogs of 2012 « Paucis Verbis
  2. Ralph Ellison: An American Journey | 101 Books

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