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Family Matters In “Native Son”

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.

He had lived and acted on the assumption that he was alone, and now he saw that he had not been. What he had done made others suffer. No matter how much he would long for them to forget him, they would not be able to. His family was a part of him, not only in blood, but in spirit. . . .

“I’m praying for you, son. That’s all I can do now,” [Bigger’s mother] said. “The Lord knows I did all I could for you and and your sister and brother. I scrubbed and washed and ironed from morning till night, day in and day out, as long as I had strength in my old body. I did all I know how, son, and if I left anything undone, it’s just ’cause I didn’t know. It’s just ’cause your poor old ma couldn’t see, son. When I heard the news of what happened, I got on my knees and turned my eyes to God and asked him if I had raised you wrong. I asked him Him to let me bear your burden if I did wrong by you. Honey, your poor old ma can’t do nothing now. I’m old and this is too much for me. I’m at the end of my rope.”

As a guy, I can say that few things in life make us feel more like a loser than disappointing our mother, to be told “this is too much for me. I’m at the end of my rope.” That’s tough.

So it’s official: Bigger Thomas is a loser.

This novel is a wonderful example of the power that family holds over us–whether we want it or not, whether we came from The Duggars, The Cleavers, or The Osbournes. They are going to affect us–for better or for worse.

Any other examples of the influence of family–specifically Moms–in literature?

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. How about James Joyce’s moms in Portrait of an Artist and in The Dubliner stories. Lots of kind, supportive, hard-working moms. I remember scenes in Portrait of an Artist in which his mother washed his hair for him while lecturing him on how to lead his life. She also quietly noted the changes (softening) in him as he became sexually active with his childhood sweatheart. Contrast that with Revolutionary Road and The Sound and the Fury …

    So, who would win in a duel of loser-ness: Bigger or April Wheeler (RR)?


    February 23, 2012
    • Oh gosh. I still think April Wheeler might win that one. At least Bigger comes to some kind of self-awareness at the end.


      February 23, 2012
      • There’s a big difference between being a loser and being disturbed. April Wheeler was clearly disturbed and trapped in a completely stifling society. I actually get her. I don’t like her but I can understand it.


        February 23, 2012
  2. Matt Ryan #

    When it comes to influential mothers in literature, my mind immediately jumps to these two novels:

    Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint.” The novel’s opening line says it all: “She was so deeply imbedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise.”

    Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Mrs. Bennet is a model of everything one should not be.


    February 23, 2012
    • Interesting about Portnoy’s Complaint. Looking forward to reading it. I really enjoyed American Pastoral.

      Another influential mom would be Enid from The Corrections. She was a little crazy too.


      February 23, 2012
  3. Some pretty strong words there from Mom. Love it


    February 23, 2012
  4. Marmee from Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott comes to mind. She is the perfect mom.


    February 26, 2012
  5. When I was dating, I had a rule: You can always tell how a man will treat you based on how he treats his mother.


    March 1, 2012

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