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.