website statistics Native Son (Vintage Classics) - PDF Books Online
Hot Best Seller

Native Son (Vintage Classics)

Availability: Ready to download

Gripping and furious, Native Son follows Bigger Thomas, a young black man who is trapped in a life of poverty in the slums of Chicago. Unwittingly involved in a wealthy woman's death, he is hunted relentlessly, baited by prejudiced officials, charged with murder and driven to acknowledge a strange pride in his crime. Native Son shocked readers on its first publication in 1 Gripping and furious, Native Son follows Bigger Thomas, a young black man who is trapped in a life of poverty in the slums of Chicago. Unwittingly involved in a wealthy woman's death, he is hunted relentlessly, baited by prejudiced officials, charged with murder and driven to acknowledge a strange pride in his crime. Native Son shocked readers on its first publication in 1940 and went on to make Richard Wright the first bestselling black writer in America.


Compare

Gripping and furious, Native Son follows Bigger Thomas, a young black man who is trapped in a life of poverty in the slums of Chicago. Unwittingly involved in a wealthy woman's death, he is hunted relentlessly, baited by prejudiced officials, charged with murder and driven to acknowledge a strange pride in his crime. Native Son shocked readers on its first publication in 1 Gripping and furious, Native Son follows Bigger Thomas, a young black man who is trapped in a life of poverty in the slums of Chicago. Unwittingly involved in a wealthy woman's death, he is hunted relentlessly, baited by prejudiced officials, charged with murder and driven to acknowledge a strange pride in his crime. Native Son shocked readers on its first publication in 1940 and went on to make Richard Wright the first bestselling black writer in America.

30 review for Native Son (Vintage Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ben Siems

    My older brother Larry, who is extremely well-read, recently came to town for a visit. He had with him a copy of Native Son. I asked what prompted him to re-read it. He explained that he had actually never read it before, which he confessed was really odd, given that the book is an undisputed classic. Well, here is Larry's two-word review of the book: Holy shit. I concur. Those who have studied the Harlem Renaissance know that Richard Wright was a passionate, angry man, the writer about whom other My older brother Larry, who is extremely well-read, recently came to town for a visit. He had with him a copy of Native Son. I asked what prompted him to re-read it. He explained that he had actually never read it before, which he confessed was really odd, given that the book is an undisputed classic. Well, here is Larry's two-word review of the book: Holy shit. I concur. Those who have studied the Harlem Renaissance know that Richard Wright was a passionate, angry man, the writer about whom other African American writers of his era would say, "Well, I'd never write THAT, but I'm glad someone did." Native Son is a brutally frank look at the racial divide of the America of the 1940s, and the relevance to today is positively painful. There have been many profound and moving stories, both true and fictionalized, of young black men wrongfully accused of crimes. This book dares to tell the story of a young black man who, in a moment of panic, commits a horrible act. That makes the way the man is treated thereafter so incredibly present and real. You can't read this story from a distance. You're in it, you feel it so palpably. I think Native Son is one of the most powerful and important American books ever written.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    This book is extremely powerful. I saw another review saying that they could not believe this was written and released in 1940. I agree - as I can only imagine how controversial the content would have been at that time. And, even today it touches so closely on some of the topics you see in the news everyday, it's like Wright could see into the future. The main themes in the story involve perceptions and misconceptions of black people as well as how Communism was viewed in the decade leading up to This book is extremely powerful. I saw another review saying that they could not believe this was written and released in 1940. I agree - as I can only imagine how controversial the content would have been at that time. And, even today it touches so closely on some of the topics you see in the news everyday, it's like Wright could see into the future. The main themes in the story involve perceptions and misconceptions of black people as well as how Communism was viewed in the decade leading up to McCarthyism and the Red Scare. In this story there are many points of view and lots of evidence given dealing with tense situations that have no really great answers. I thought Wright did a good job giving a thought provoking narrative without obviously saying "here is the answer!" The story acknowledges that the whole situation is difficult and will not be easily remedied after years of habitual behavior on all sides of the issue. I will be amazed if you can read this and not be left with your mind churning. Also, I have to say that this was one of the most intense, nail-biting, breath holding books I have ever read. Every page I was gripped waiting for the next development, a resolution, anything. Amazing, gripping writing - such an engaging book! The subject matter may be difficult at times but it deals with topics that are, by there very nature, intense and cannot (and should not) be sugar coated Finally, I could not help but make comparisons between this book and To Kill A Mockingbird. My reasons might be a bit spoilerish, but if you have read it I hope you know what I am getting at and I will be interested to see if you feel the same. In summary, Native Son is a powerful and difficult book dealing directly and bravely with social issues from the 1940s that are still relevant today. Considering the nature of the book, it may not be for everyone, but I think that everyone can benefit from the message.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rowena

    “These were the rhythms of his life: indifference and violence; periods of abstract brooding and periods of intense desire; moments of silence and moments of anger—like water ebbing and flowing from the tug of a far-away invisible force. Being this way was a need of his as deep as eating. He was like a strange plant blooming in the day and wilting at night; but the sun that made it bloom and the cold darkness that made it wilt were never seen. It was his own sun and darkness, a private and perso “These were the rhythms of his life: indifference and violence; periods of abstract brooding and periods of intense desire; moments of silence and moments of anger—like water ebbing and flowing from the tug of a far-away invisible force. Being this way was a need of his as deep as eating. He was like a strange plant blooming in the day and wilting at night; but the sun that made it bloom and the cold darkness that made it wilt were never seen. It was his own sun and darkness, a private and personal sun and darkness.” Richard Wright, Native Son This story is still heavily on my mind. I think if I’d read it earlier, I would have reacted to it differently. There is so much going on it has been hard for me to write a coherent review but I feel compelled to write down some of my thoughts, regardless of how disjointed they may be. The story starts off with a poor black family trying to kill a rat in their apartment, it reeks of poverty from the start and quickly materializes into showing us the dark side of racist American society. It introduces us to our protagonist, Bigger Thomas, who I’d heard of even before I read this book; I knew that he had accidentally killed a white girl, and then killed a black girl to cover his crime. I’d even read James Baldwin’s literary criticism of this book, but there was more to this story than that. Had I known, I wouldn’t have stayed away from this novel for this long. The mind-numbing lives black people had to live was clearly illustrated from the start. The drugs, alcohol, women, pool playing, cheap movies, religion....all were seen as ways to not think about what was going on around them. As Bigger said, “He knew that the moment he allowed himself to feel to its fullness how they lived, the shame and misery of their lives, he would be swept out of himself with fear and despair.” My feelings about the book were in part influenced by the current civil rights movement in the States. If that hadn't been going on, the book would still have been horrific, but with it, it was even more visceral. It would have been more satisfying to have finished reading the book and said, "Thank God all that crazy racism stuff is over," but watch the news on any given day and you know it's alive and well. I was fascinated by how the whites and blacks interacted. In the book, we have a rich white family, the Dalton’s, who are actually the good guys but even they had a problematic way of looking at, and dealing with, the blacks they purported to be helping. They made them appear so simplistic, almost like children. On the other hand, Mary, the daughter, did not really understand that her being overly friendly to Bigger, or inviting him to eat with her, was actually making him uncomfortable and could cause serious repercussions for him. In her privileged position she failed to have much empathy or understanding for Bigger. I saw Mary and her boyfriend Jan as behaving like old-school anthropologists, going to observe blacks “in their natural habitat”, as it were. Their actions were very voyeuristic and I could understand Bigger’s rage at their behaviour. The psychological aspects of race and poverty is not something they understood, coming from privileged backgrounds. There was the lack of privacy the poor had, the fact that their lives were so clearly on display and that they had little to no control over their lives that made Jan and Mary's actions particularly degrading. To be honest, this book scared me. It scared me because it showed that you can have groups of people living in close proximity, yet not knowing anything about each other, instead holding on to an alien image of the other: “To Bigger and his kind white people were not really people; they were a sort of great natural force, like a stormy sky looming overhead, or like a deep swirling river stretching suddenly at one’s feet in the dark. As long as he and his black folks did not go beyond certain limits, there was no need to fear that white force. But whether they feared it or not, each and every day of their lives they lived with it; even when words did not sound its name, they acknowledged its reality. As long as they lived here in this prescribed corner of the city, they paid mute tribute to it.” It scared me because people are treated according to their race, and like it or not, recent events have shown this. It scared me that the coloured body can be exploited, even in death. Poor Bessie, she said: “I just work! I ain’t had no happiness, no nothing. I just work. I’m black and I work and don’t bother nobody…” Probably the cry of so many at the time. And to make matters even worse, in death her body is exploited. What made her death even sadder and more tragic was this: “Though he had killed a black girl and a white girl, he knew that it would be for the death of the white girl that he would be punished. The black girl was merely “evidence.” The media whipping people into a frenzy, not just with race but with Islamophobia, is happening now, just as it happened back then: “Several hundred Negroes resembling Bigger Thomas were rounded up...” Like the panelist at a Black History Month event I attended this week said, regarding his having been stopped by the Vancouver police who said he fitted a description of a black man wanted for robbery, “You mean a black man between 5’ 2” and 7’ 3?” This book showed me the impact of racism in an even more profound way than in other books I've read.I don't think I will ever forget it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brina

    Updating my shelves. I read this in high school for a book report. Being that I'm from the Chicago suburbs originally this was one of my first exposures to life in another part of the city and I found the book to be fascinating. It would be interesting to reread it through adult eyes. Updating my shelves. I read this in high school for a book report. Being that I'm from the Chicago suburbs originally this was one of my first exposures to life in another part of the city and I found the book to be fascinating. It would be interesting to reread it through adult eyes.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Samadrita

    One has got to appreciate the diplomatic mincing of words that graces the GR blurb. "Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright's powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America." A distinctly innocuous 'what it means to be black in America' is a nice little euphemism for 'institutionalized racism' or terminology like 'white supremacist capitalist patriarchy' whi One has got to appreciate the diplomatic mincing of words that graces the GR blurb. "Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright's powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America." A distinctly innocuous 'what it means to be black in America' is a nice little euphemism for 'institutionalized racism' or terminology like 'white supremacist capitalist patriarchy' which are too confrontational, too accusatory, too ominous sounding. That America continues to practice a similar form of conscious prevarication to avoid facing the true sordidness of its race problem is in some small way responsible for this book's enduring relevance. America is still bowed under the weight of its real Bigger Thomas-es and their collective existential agony, otherwise Travyon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner would, perhaps, still be alive. What the book blurb avoids spelling out is that to be black in America is to follow a trajectory of limited self improvement or slow and gradual decline carved out for one by malevolent, mysterious forces way beyond one's control. To be deprived of an agency, to have one's freedom of movement, thought, and speech so severely restricted that the only way for a working class black man to make his presence felt in the world is by (accidentally) killing a rich white girl, one whose coveted sexuality and beauty are treated as valuable objects in the ownership of the white supremacist capitalist patriarch. Half the time I feel like I'm on the outside of the world peeping in through a knothole in the fence... . Bigger Thomas embraces an absurd world and finds meaning in an otherwise futile existence only by committing accidental murder and finding a sense of accomplishment in that act but unlike Camus's Meursault the source of his private angst and indifference in the face of persecution is situated within a realm in which Jim Crow laws reign supreme. It was the first full act of his life; it was the most meaningful, exciting and stirring thing that had ever happened to him. He accepted it because it made him free, gave him the possibility of choice, of action, the opportunity to act and to feel that his actions carried weight. No other work has brought back memories of 'The Wire' (which has got to be the best thing ever made for television viewing) as acutely as 'Native Son' and Ta-Nehisi Coates' powerful diatribe against the systematic destruction of 'black bodies' in contemporary America (Between the World and Me) because both books and tv show explicate the heart-breaking consequences of social injustice in its many macabre avatars and the trickle-down effect of public policy aimed at preserving the noxious but brittle status quo. And yet the discerning will not fail to notice that I have rated this work 4 stars despite my limitless love for The Wire. This is majorly owing to the fact that Wright, much like Camus in The Stranger, seeks to rationalize a crime(s) simply to propound a philosophy. The murdered women, especially Bessie Mears, are relegated to the status of lifeless plot devices whose purpose is merely to flesh out Bigger's fear of and anger at a world in which he is perpetually treated as a pariah. Silly white entitled ignorant Mary Dalton is as much objectified by Bigger and his friends as by the self-righteously outraged white community which treats her murder as an event of communal humiliation. Her personhood, life, socialist inclinations, and opinions are eventually subsumed by the color of her skin and its implied political symbolism. That Bessie, as a black woman, is a doubly marginalized victim who suffers a two-pronged form of oppression perpetrated both by an essentially racist social order and black men who find an amoral form of self expression through inflicting some kind of violence on the vulnerable is also never acknowledged by the narrative. Not that I question Richard Wright's right to place black masculinity in the foreground of his novel, but he achieves his narrative aim at the expense of overlooking the gravity of the hardships and everyday violence that black women endure. Camus displays a similar thoughtlessness while portraying the accidental murder of a nameless 'Arab' simply so that Meursault could have an epiphany and make peace with his absurd life and imminent execution. Either scenario does not sit well with me. After all, it is usually the women and people of color who are robbed of even the minimal glory of true victimhood in literature.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Fabian

    (SPOILERS!) Reading the first 2 parts of "Native Son," Richard Wright's landmark novel is an absolute thrill. One part Tom Ripley, one part Graham Greene's "Brighton Rock," the antihero always reigns triumphant. But this antihero lacks panache, intelligence, even, perhaps, a conscience... all the character traits of a true villain. So he's somewhere in between. The crimes committed by the much-studied, much-written-about Bigger Thomas are heinous. The character study is super taut and intense. " (SPOILERS!) Reading the first 2 parts of "Native Son," Richard Wright's landmark novel is an absolute thrill. One part Tom Ripley, one part Graham Greene's "Brighton Rock," the antihero always reigns triumphant. But this antihero lacks panache, intelligence, even, perhaps, a conscience... all the character traits of a true villain. So he's somewhere in between. The crimes committed by the much-studied, much-written-about Bigger Thomas are heinous. The character study is super taut and intense. "Fear" & "Flight" (parts 1 & 2) are absolutely perfect. Then the bloody politics come in. The tide & tone turns radically and inexplicably. The Third and longest part of "Native Son," aptly called "Fate" seems like a purgatory teeming with bo-oh-ring soliloquies and lawyer sways. The courtroom drama I do not particularly like (think: the 600+ pages of "Bonfire of the Vanities"!), and that is why "Native Son" loses some points on its journey to reach almost-perfection. But the failure seems too great, after all's said and done. The social commentary becomes real and the magic of parts I and II disappears as everything becomes too obvious. Everything that came before, which is interesting to dissect & discuss, is pretty much eradicated by the sentimentalism that pops up at the end in this otherwise raw and unsentimental novel.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    Have you heard the name Trayvon Martin? If you have, good. If you haven’t, look him up. Open a tab, search up the name, T-R-A-Y-V-O-N etc, and read. Familiarize yourself with the exact definitions of the atrocity, the scope of the repercussions throughout the US, the up and currently running process of rectification that in a fair and just world would not be as excruciatingly slow and painful as it’s turning out to be. In a fair and just world, he would not be one of countless mown down for ever Have you heard the name Trayvon Martin? If you have, good. If you haven’t, look him up. Open a tab, search up the name, T-R-A-Y-V-O-N etc, and read. Familiarize yourself with the exact definitions of the atrocity, the scope of the repercussions throughout the US, the up and currently running process of rectification that in a fair and just world would not be as excruciatingly slow and painful as it’s turning out to be. In a fair and just world, he would not be one of countless mown down for everything but a valid reason. This is not a fair and just world. No, this is a world where we have those who profess to be not only good writers deserving of literary rewards, but good teachers of writing to boot, despite bigoting their scope of literature down to the basic principle of whom they identify with based on parameters such as gender, sexuality, and color of skin. Do you know what that sort of mentality would leave me, reading this book? Do you know which character I was expected to perfectly align with, the one most feasible for the goal of sewing myself up in the skin and riding around in perfect harmony? The young white girl, so filled with highflown aspirations of social justice, so loaded with easy income, so filthy with white privilege, who is suffocated and mutilated and burned up into a few fragments of bone and a single earring. Tell me, then, oh wise teacher, keeper of books and innate sense of good literature, white, middle-aged, heterosexual, the banality of character, the default of personalization, the one archetype for whom nearly the whole of literature has been customized for and has never known what it means to eke out an empathetic terrain on the basis of understanding, not physicality. Even here, in this book written by a black man, you have an overwhelming majority in terms of representation, what with your Buckley, your Max, your multitudes of Klu Klux Klan and crowds and judges all in a big fat white male world. While I have a single soul, a Mary Dalton. What the fuck am I supposed to do with her, this small, pretty, idiot girl who knows nothing of the agony she is sustained by, and thinks herself kind and generous by reaching out to those her very skin tone persecutes and compromising their existence with a single moment of stupidly inane trust? What am I supposed to do with this pompously fulfilled imbecile, this suicidally naïve prat who innocently frames her words out of what she perceives as an intention of kindness, treating the other as an animal when she notices their plight and accessory ensuring her comfortable existence when she returns to her natural state of self-righteous ignorance? For you know, teacher, in spite of all that deficiencies on her part, there is a case to be made when it comes to the casual abuse and even more casual conformation of mind and soul of countless women in the history of both reality and literature. Saintly virgin, blighted whore, girlfriend in a refrigerator, all objects used with unconscious persistence of augmenting the male reality, the male realization, the male point of view. You may not know, teacher, with your blatant refusal to even consider reading literature on the other side of the curtain of your all too male sensibilities, but that is not how woman are. That is not how I am, and as such it would be all too easy to resonate with Bessie and Mary above all others, young women there and gone in a swift spending of their use in the pursuit of a story of a young and violent man. Tell me, in light of that, should I hate Bigger Thomas? Should I spit on him and his indomitable pride of living, one that will not be blinded to the misery of him and his people no matter how much they beg and plead? Should I ignore his anger, his shame, his fearful panic in the face of living cut and dried at every second, every year, every century that his ancestors were first wrenched away from their homeland and have suffered in inhuman bondage ever since? Should I withhold my empathy for someone who looks the reality of his existence in the face, dregging out his life in a country that rapes him into a corner and sees that as the way it ought to be? Should I refuse to recognize the effects of a neverending amputation of the self’s expression onto the wider plane of life and living, the horrible consequences that can and will result so long as oppression stamps its broken and bloody way across ethics and humanity? Should I close my ears to the integrity of Max, the manipulation of Buckley, not chase the slightest bit of critical analysis of the two and their diatribes, all because I cannot relate in terms of simple physicality? Above all, should I have not even embarked on this book written by Richard Wright, because somehow I ‘knew’ that I wouldn’t relate because of the differences the author and I have in terms of skin and gender? Tell me, teacher, although it’s unlikely you would ever deserve the title no matter how much writing you did. Would you have me stuff myself into a box that will cradle me with familiar blindness forevermore? Would you have me tie myself down to the identity of someone like poor Mary Dalton, the little fool, and rightfully suffer for it? For I will never know what it means on a visceral level to be black, male, and in the United States, pushed past the farthest boundaries of humanity by centuries of systematic oppression of an entire people into a barren void where right and wrong squeak along with the voices of ghosts. But I do know how to read, as well as listen. I do know how to write, as well as think. I do know, in the fundamental ache of my self, what it means to be a human being. Do you know that last one, teacher? I doubt it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    A gripping naturalist novel delving into the psychological toll of racism on Black interiority. There’s so much to critique about the work, from its misogyny to its clunky structure, but its influence and forceful condemnation of white supremacy make it still worth reading.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    I've struggled for almost a year to write a review for this book. I think it's so difficult because I just didn't like the way that I felt about it. A main character who is despicable surround by well meaning but ultimately patronizing people who aren't that all fired likeable either. This was easily one of the most uncomfortable and unpleasant reading experiences this year. Normally I would have written this off as terrible but for one thing. Wright has achieved exactly what he set out to do. T I've struggled for almost a year to write a review for this book. I think it's so difficult because I just didn't like the way that I felt about it. A main character who is despicable surround by well meaning but ultimately patronizing people who aren't that all fired likeable either. This was easily one of the most uncomfortable and unpleasant reading experiences this year. Normally I would have written this off as terrible but for one thing. Wright has achieved exactly what he set out to do. This was not a read one picks up for enjoyment. This book was a demonstrative principle. It showcases Bigger Thomas as a product of his environment. It's an ugly story. Vile in fact and Bigger Thomas in my view has no redeeming qualities. And even though Wright uses a freaking sledgehammer, I can't deny it's effectiveness. Nor can I deny the realism of the characters. The wealthy, patronizing folks who represent the elite in the world so distinctly as they reach out to give one disadvantaged person an opportunity so they can pat themselves on the back for their generosity while they are prey on the disadvantaged community offering substandard housing at unaffordable prices pretending they do much more good than harm. The liberal condescending female, who looks down from a pretentious perch and claims to be colorblind and believe in equality unable to recognize her wealth and whiteness exempt her from consequences that endanger Bigger. It's a little like "The Great Gatsby". These people were callous and don't really care. Bigger was a selfish, brutish, bitter man whose size allowed him to bully a lot of people. He is of average intelligence and lacks the drive to do better. His single mother relies on him for income to help her and her 3 kids and is constantly degrading him. He can't keep a job because he's lazy and entitled as the oldest male in the family. He lacks motivation because he really has no opportunity. This vile man is made in America. This is why I believe this book is worthy of praise. It stays with you and is still resonant today with the boot of wealthy on the neck of the poor. And the fact is that ethnic identity is still entrenched and systemic and extends beyond black and white. What are we creating when we wrest kids from their parents and put them in cages for trying to escape a violent environment. When we refuse to help people out of work due to the pandemic stay in a safe environment and keep their families fed. When the we poison the public water source in a city but make no attempt to help the folks who have no other options for drinking and cleaning. When we overlook the indignities our system imposes on others because it doesn't affect us. Wright says that we create a generation of monsters. I think he's correct. A horrible book that stings because it's like a mirror reflecting things we don't like about ourselves. 4+ Stars Listened to Audible. Narration was fine though in my mind a little emotionless. I believe that was the narrators interpretation. Narrator was Peter Francis James. One note on this audible selection: Fortunately I was able to turn this one back in for another selection. This recording was a streaming of CDs without any type of audio editing so frequently the listener hears for example "CD 4" then continues into the story. Unprofessional for the cost of the audiobook.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    What a brave and confrontational book this is! Wright could have gone down the easy route of making Bigger Thomas a falsely accused man and generated sympathy by showing him as the victim of a racialised legal system, but he doesn't - instead he gives us a far more complex portrait of Blackness, masculinity and class, all of which collide in Bigger. Wright's introduction makes the point that Bigger is a composite of men he has known - white as well as black - ill-educated, dispossessed, alienate What a brave and confrontational book this is! Wright could have gone down the easy route of making Bigger Thomas a falsely accused man and generated sympathy by showing him as the victim of a racialised legal system, but he doesn't - instead he gives us a far more complex portrait of Blackness, masculinity and class, all of which collide in Bigger. Wright's introduction makes the point that Bigger is a composite of men he has known - white as well as black - ill-educated, dispossessed, alienated, angry, violent at times and also scared and hurting at the alien world through which they're trying to navigate. In so many ways, this feels like a contemporary novel so it's both shocking and disheartening that it was written in 1940 - some things have changed, so much hasn't. Bigger is subject to US segregation laws which stop him learning to fly a plane, for example, something which he yearns to do and, given how well he drives, might have given him the skills and pride he is sorely lacking. He is subject to the patronising interest of a philanthropic white family whose own privilege and 'white saviour' complex stops them seeing how uncomfortable they make Bigger with their probing questions and their charity and their desire to be seen eating with him in a Black neighbourhood diner. Wright's own Communist beliefs shine through, with the foundational analysis of class that underpins the socialised depiction of race - Bigger could almost have been a white working-class young man caught up in a system that devalues and degrades. There are places where this has the feel of a noir thriller, at others the prose trips over itself in something that gets close to, but is not, stream of consciousness. This isn't a book for readers who need to like a character in order to rate a book, but for the rest of us, this is angry, smart, despairing, raw and ultimately haunting as we contemplate the fate of the Bigger Thomases of our own world.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    A challenging read. The easy route for the author Richard Wright would've been to write a novel asking us to sympathize with a black man wrongfully accused of murder in a racist community. But he does not take the easy route. Instead he implores the reader to follow Bigger Thomas, a young black man who is absolutely guilty of committing a deplorable act (for reasons which he himself cannot fully explain), and forces us to look at the circumstances which might have possibly created this complex m A challenging read. The easy route for the author Richard Wright would've been to write a novel asking us to sympathize with a black man wrongfully accused of murder in a racist community. But he does not take the easy route. Instead he implores the reader to follow Bigger Thomas, a young black man who is absolutely guilty of committing a deplorable act (for reasons which he himself cannot fully explain), and forces us to look at the circumstances which might have possibly created this complex man. Although the book isn't perfect and every now and then (especially in the last 30 pages) delves into bloated preachiness, it still is very engaging and surprisingly suspenseful. It forces you to consider how society in the 1930's created a man, for whom fear and hate were the only emotions he's ever felt, and how those emotions can lead him to murder. It challenges you to understand that although the murder is essentially accidental, Bigger knows he has done something wrong but is initially unrepentant. Because after lashing out in a situation he doesn't understand, it is the first time he feels alive, with a purpose and with the control of his own life in his hands. A challenging and important book that pulls aside the curtain and looks dead on at the circumstances that create Bigger Thomas and at the social, class, and racial relations in our society. “Violence is a personal necessity for the oppressed...It is not a strategy consciously devised. It is the deep, instinctive expression of a human being denied individuality.”

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Maybe it's the inevitable melancholy of getting older, but reading this novel for the second time, roughly 13 years after the first go, has made me tremendously sad and despairing. I would like to think the country is so much different 70 years after its publication, but is it? Maybe it's the inevitable melancholy of getting older, but reading this novel for the second time, roughly 13 years after the first go, has made me tremendously sad and despairing. I would like to think the country is so much different 70 years after its publication, but is it?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    What a powerful book. In narrative, theme, character and motifs, Wright uses his whole arsenal to show us the horrors of racism. He seems to be able to reflect back the experience of racism—how it's created and it's cycle of destruction. I've read other Black writers before, but this book is probably the one that has taken on and embodied racism more so than any other book for me. For a novel written in 1940, the book holds up quite well. Unfortunately, while our nation has made progress, especi What a powerful book. In narrative, theme, character and motifs, Wright uses his whole arsenal to show us the horrors of racism. He seems to be able to reflect back the experience of racism—how it's created and it's cycle of destruction. I've read other Black writers before, but this book is probably the one that has taken on and embodied racism more so than any other book for me. For a novel written in 1940, the book holds up quite well. Unfortunately, while our nation has made progress, especially some legal and institutional progress, this book and the picture it paints is still quite relevant today. The book is very accessible. Wright's prose, while rhythmic and artful, is quite straightforward and easy to read. I can't recommend this book enough, and not just as a means to understand racism from more angles, shine a light on our own behaviors, but also as a gripping literary thriller that has stood the test of time. Put it on your to-read list. ******** Movie adaptation comment below******* Update April 8th, 2019: Last night I watched the excellent adaptation of Native Son on HBO. While not strictly true to the source material, especially in some sections, and lacking in some ways that made the book exceptionally powerful, I would still recommend watching the movie of the same name. I won't say much more because this isn't a movie review and I want to be careful of spoilers which I know is something people care deeply about. If you've read the book the only thing to spoil is how the adaptation deviates from the source material. I won't say anymore on that topic.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Lawson

    Richard Wright's Native Son is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most powerful books that I have read, ever. This nightmarish story packs such an overwhelming amount of emotion and controversy that it is hard to pull away from much like the sight of a gruesome car crash on an interstate, you don't want to look but you must look. If you're looking for a competent, confident example of verisimilitude in literature then you need not look further. Upon reading this piece, I wondered the entire Richard Wright's Native Son is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most powerful books that I have read, ever. This nightmarish story packs such an overwhelming amount of emotion and controversy that it is hard to pull away from much like the sight of a gruesome car crash on an interstate, you don't want to look but you must look. If you're looking for a competent, confident example of verisimilitude in literature then you need not look further. Upon reading this piece, I wondered the entire time, "How had I not been exposed to this book or Richard Wright?" And, it still escapes me how this masterpiece is not at the forefront (if not, the very front) of not only American Literature but more specifically African-American Literature. I've yet to read a piece that surpasses the violent honesty of this book; and, perhaps, that is why it is not as much a part of the American-Literature Subconscious Canon. Wright's work isn't as tame as the weary Hughes and he manages to surpass the shocking tact of James Baldwin. Bigger Thomas is a murderous and rapacious young man who through his horrendous acts of rape, theft, and violence somehow manages to elicit an amount of sympathy. Wright is able to portray him in such a light that makes the reader understand fully that Bigger is committing unconscionable crimes yet no matter how atrocious the crimes are not unforgivable. There were times I felt guilty for rooting for Bigger Thomas, but that is the mastery in Wright's writing! Bigger is such an uncanny character that it is next to impossible to not feel sympathy for him. "Why?" I kept asking myself. "Why do I not want this man's head on a plate?" It's as if Bigger is in a nightmare but is unable to wake up. If you've ever been in a situation so bad, so unbearable that you actually wished it to be a terrible dream then you will understand Bigger. You'll beg for him to stop committing these crimes instead of demanding him to be caught and killed. The mob mentality in this book is frightening and dark, darker than Bigger Thomas himself. To think that some of Bigger's case was based on an actual trial of a man named Robert Nixon is almost unbelievable. The hate is so gigantic within the mob. As a reader, you really get to see how minorities (blacks), laborers (unions), and people with differing social opinions (socialist & communists) have been and, sometimes, still are persecuted by mass mentality... The tragedy is that the mass mentality is controlled by an elite few. This book offers a dramatic understanding of how those in power maintain a steady hand on their subordinates and pit each subordinate against one another so they do not focus on the real monsters, the employers! It bears witness to the class-struggle of the times and the class-struggles that are still occurring today. Bless this book. It's a good one.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Esteban del Mal

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I’ve been putting off writing a review of this for two reasons: 1.) I'm busy. 2.) I wanted to cool off a bit, not let any of that nebulous white guilt creep into my thinking. ***** This book has heft, both physical and otherwise. The paper stock, the binding, the subject matter --- they combine for one weighty tome. I came to terms with the material dimensions quickly. The other dimensions? Not so much. I mean, I'm an ethnic Jew, but I identify (and pass, thankfully) as your run-of-the-mill white I’ve been putting off writing a review of this for two reasons: 1.) I'm busy. 2.) I wanted to cool off a bit, not let any of that nebulous white guilt creep into my thinking. ***** This book has heft, both physical and otherwise. The paper stock, the binding, the subject matter --- they combine for one weighty tome. I came to terms with the material dimensions quickly. The other dimensions? Not so much. I mean, I'm an ethnic Jew, but I identify (and pass, thankfully) as your run-of-the-mill white American guy. And white guys have it pretty good (thanks, jo). Typically at the expense of others, and most notably blacks. The understanding of my natural advantages in society necessitates that there is, and ever will be, a divide between my experience in society and that of a similarly constituted African-American. I try to bridge that divide as best I can. Richard Wright has helped me. Wright walks a fine line expertly. His protagonist, Bigger Thomas, is more sociopath than oppressed racial minority for a good one hundred sixty pages. But then the hammer drops. We overhear the words of an investigating detective: "Well, you see 'em one way and I see 'em another. To me, a nigger's a nigger." Welcome to circa 1940s America, where the best you can hope for if you happen to have x-amount of melanin in your skin is to be a barely literate chauffeur to wealth and condescension. Systematically degraded, you lash out and you kill. Is it any wonder? Just as there is a gulf in my understanding of what it is to be black in America, there is a gulf in Bigger Thomas's understanding of what it is to be a human -- because he has never been fully recognized as one. There is a convergence in nature and nurture that sets him on the path to murder. Already predisposed to be the neighborhood bully, the conditions in which he is raised hone those native instincts into something hard. Hard enough to suffocate a woman, chop her head off and stuff her remains into an oven. Hard enough to bludgeon another woman -- his girlfriend -- to a pulp with a brick and dump her body four floors down a ventilation shaft. Hard enough to spurn his grizzled communist defense attorney, who recognizes Bigger's murderous intransigence in the end, his courtroom elegance giving away to stammering disbelief in the face of what America has created, what it will continue to create after Bigger is executed. Things have changed since the 40s, to be certain. In fact, I even found myself working under a black man for a day as I read this book. His job was to follow me around and gauge my efficiency. It sounds worse than it was -- I've grown accustomed to being demeaned myself, I guess. And, happy corporate cog that I am, I am exceptionally efficient, so I have nothing in the (short-term) to worry about and dutifully jump through my assigned hoop because I have a wife and a child and a mortgage and a college loan andandand. As my shift progressed, this stranger and I inevitably started to connect on a human level and social and work barriers grew less opaque. When the time arrived for us to drive to an area infamous for its racism, I told him about it because he was from out of town. I told him how I had managed a liquor store there years ago and transferred one of my clerks, an African-American woman, because she had been threatened on the job by a skinhead. I told him about how I had had to call building maintenance to paint over assorted white power graffiti, most notably a swastika, on the company building there. I told him how I had once pulled up in front of the office at midnight and looked across the narrow, two-lane street to see a family of white trash -- father, mother, pre-pubescent boy -- huddled together on a lawn as a garden hose dangled from the father's hands, the lot of them staring at me in a scene reminiscent of American Gothic, and feeling for days afterwards how fragile the flame of civilization is. I told him how when we had an African-American co-worker, it was understood that she wasn't allowed to travel to the office alone. When we arrived there, I did my thing and it was time for lunch. I had a momentary pang of dread as I took the book from my backpack, what with all this race bullshit ambient around the two of us. When he asked me what I was reading and I told him, he responded simply, "Good book." Things seemed a bit more somber between us after that. Not because either of us intended it, but just because it was.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Paul

    While I realize some of the things that Wright is trying to say in this book, I could not bring myself to enjoy it at all. One of the main reasons was because I simply detested the main character, Bigger Thomas. The reason I disliked him so much was not because he is amoral; no, there are characters in books I like who are quite evil. The reason I disliked him is because he did things that were completely pointless and he was also not a very deep or interesting character. This book also dragged While I realize some of the things that Wright is trying to say in this book, I could not bring myself to enjoy it at all. One of the main reasons was because I simply detested the main character, Bigger Thomas. The reason I disliked him so much was not because he is amoral; no, there are characters in books I like who are quite evil. The reason I disliked him is because he did things that were completely pointless and he was also not a very deep or interesting character. This book also dragged on far too long (in my opinion), and never gave the reader much reason to sympathize with the main character. Main characters do not have to be "good guys", of course, but they should at least be interesting! There was nothing about Bigger that made me curious to know why he became the type of person he was. Of course, this book does have a good message (in some ways) about how racism can damage people both directly and indirectly. However, I think Wright should have created a more complex protagonist that the readers could have at least understood in some way.

  17. 4 out of 5

    ij

    Note: This book was included in “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.” I own the 2006 edition of “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.” Peter Boxall is the general editor and the preface was written by Peter Ackroyd. This book has compiled 1001 recommended books, primarily novels which were selected by over 100 contributors (literary critics, professors of literature, etc.). For each recommended book there is information on the author and a short blurb about the book. I use "1001 Books Yo Note: This book was included in “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.” I own the 2006 edition of “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.” Peter Boxall is the general editor and the preface was written by Peter Ackroyd. This book has compiled 1001 recommended books, primarily novels which were selected by over 100 contributors (literary critics, professors of literature, etc.). For each recommended book there is information on the author and a short blurb about the book. I use "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die" for reference.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    As a reader going through the book, I was aghast at the brutal descriptions of murder and coverup contained within the first two-thirds of the book. I don't normally read this sort to stuff. Nevertheless, I recognize the book as a realistic depiction of the ravaged world of urban African Americans of the 1930s (published 1940) with repercussions remaining today. The story is told with the highly charged consciousness of an uneducated and embittered black man who has been radically cut off from t As a reader going through the book, I was aghast at the brutal descriptions of murder and coverup contained within the first two-thirds of the book. I don't normally read this sort to stuff. Nevertheless, I recognize the book as a realistic depiction of the ravaged world of urban African Americans of the 1930s (published 1940) with repercussions remaining today. The story is told with the highly charged consciousness of an uneducated and embittered black man who has been radically cut off from the mainstream of American life. It's a view of the ghetto from the standpoint of one of it victims. Feelings of anger and hate are described with visceral realism. It attacks the old taboo of mentioning the relationships between sex, race, and violence. Then in the final third of the book the intermingling of the powers and promises of religion, capitalism, racism, and communism is explored with explicit thoroughness. The summary arguments of the defense counsel at the trial near the book's end is long and passionate in which the argument is made that the violent criminal acts of this defendant are products of our unfairly segregated society which predictably has led to anger and resentment. The countering summary arguments by the prosecution are equally passionate maintaining the position of the blind justice in a nation of laws. (view spoiler)[The defense asks for sentence of life imprisonment. The prosecution asks for death sentence. [additional layer of spoiler]—>—>(view spoiler)[The sentence given was death by execution. In those days things happened fast. Time before execution was only a couple weeks, and apparently there was not possibility of further appeals. (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)] There are two conversations between Bigger Thomas, the book's protagonist, and his defense attorney in which Bigger discovers for the first time a glimpse of what perhaps may be purpose and meaning in life. Ironically, this life changing experience occurs shortly before his life is to be ended by execution. The first conversation occurs before the trial when the attorney asks Bigger, "Tell me about yourself." The subsequent recounting of his life's dreams and disappointments creates feelings that are new and have not previously been experienced by Bigger. After the trial is over there is a second conversation between the two in which Bigger strives to revisit these new feelings and insights. There's something about these conversations I find particularly poignant, but it's difficult to explain why. Could the tragedy of this story have been avoided if these sorts of conversations have occurred earlier? Or is it the message of this book that these conversations cannot take place when needed because of society's structural flaws? Considering the year that this book was published in 1940, the ideas explored in this book were particularly prophetic in light of the civil rights movement that appeared in the second half of the twentieth century.

  19. 5 out of 5

    LATOYA JOVENA

    The suspense made my heart race even though I knew what was going to happen. I found myself holding my breath and clenching my fist; the description about how Bigger was feeling was so vivid. The subject matter was a lot to swallow but I see why this novel is a classic; the description of racism was enough to change the world.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Keertana

    Even after thinking about this book for days, I still don’t know what to write. I think we’ve all learned about 1930s/1940s black America, but none of us have truly experienced it. We sympathize with the black people, we cheer on stories of people such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., and we are grateful that our world is not the same way today. Yet, how many of us have truly had to put ourselves in the shoes of those people? How many of us have really known what it’s like to be treated Even after thinking about this book for days, I still don’t know what to write. I think we’ve all learned about 1930s/1940s black America, but none of us have truly experienced it. We sympathize with the black people, we cheer on stories of people such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., and we are grateful that our world is not the same way today. Yet, how many of us have truly had to put ourselves in the shoes of those people? How many of us have really known what it’s like to be treated as if you’re not even human, to be denied your basic rights at freedom, and to be stripped of all your free will? In Native Son, Richard Wright takes you into the mind of one black man, Bigger Thomas. Yet, Bigger stands for something bigger; he represents all of black America. So truly, Wright isn’t just taking you into Bigger’s mind, he’s taking you into the heart of racial crisis. Bigger has been recognized in life as a troubled boy, one who lashes out. He has been raised in a small apartment that isn’t fit to hold two people, let alone four. His education is scarce and limited, his fear overwhelms him, and he constantly feels as if white people control his every move, his every action, his every thought. Thus, these feelings and instincts have bubbled over to such an extent where he lashes out. He accidently smothers a white woman, chops off her head and throws her body in a furnace to burn. He takes a brick and hits his girlfriend with it, throwing her down an air shaft to freeze to death – all after he has raped her. He blames his actions on a Communist, one of the few people helping him – the same Communist who ultimately finds him a lawyer. Max, the lawyer who sees Bigger as an equal and exposes in a biased courtroom not what Bigger has done, but what America and society has created and will unfortunately continue to create, long after Bigger’s untimely demise. In the writing of Native Son, Wright walks a fine line. Bigger, despite being the main character of the novel is so hard to feel any sympathy for. Wright has created a character who is black, who is oppressed, who is quite literally a victim of the society in which he lives, yet Bigger acts like a sociopath with animalistic instincts and no regret for the inhumane acts he commits. However, Wright takes this view of Bigger, this interpretation of him, and turns it into something different: understanding. In a world where you can only hope and pray to have skin that is lighter than what you already have, in which you can only stand and dream about flying planes because of your skin color, who wouldn’t lash out and kill? Who wouldn’t seize that first glimpse of power and authority when they find it? Wright describes the ongoing power struggles within this novel, mixed with the rising fear so perfectly, that you cannot help but be in awe of his skill. Although most readers will find Bigger to be a sociopath or cruel and unyielding at first, reading on we can see that he is truly a man being treated just like a caged animal. In so many ways Native Son is such a difficult book to read. It took me nearly a month to finish it because of the time I took reading each chapter and more importantly, the reflection it caused me to have. I’ve tried and found it impossible to find any situation in our present-day life that is similar to that of Bigger. I’ve never felt the way he does, I’ve never been treated the way he has since I’ve always been seen as a human. I’m not white, so in that aspect I never felt guilt of my skin color while reading this story, because truly, being white means you have it all. However, I did feel an immense amount of sympathy towards Bigger and I still can’t quite wrap my mind around what it must feel like to never have been treated as a human, as an equal to all other people in the world. It breaks my heart. Wright once said that, "'I must write this novel, not only for others to read, but to free myself of this scene of shame and fear.' In fact, the novel, as time passed, grew upon me to the extent that I became a necessity to write it; the writing of it turned into a way of living for me." In many ways, the reading of this novel too became a necessity. It became something I had to do, I felt obliged to do. I felt as if I owed it to Bigger, to history, and to the suffering black people of the past and present to read and understand Bigger’s story. I cannot recommend this book enough, but just know that once you pick it up, you won’t be able to look at the world the same way again.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    A powerful book about a young black man named Bigger Thomas who kills a white woman out of fear for his own life. Richard Wright takes us to Chicago in the 1930s, where Bigger just obtained a new job working as a chauffeur under the wealthy Dalton family. Mary Dalton, the family's luxurious daughter, and Jan, her communist boyfriend, treat Bigger well - a suspicious feat because Bigger has suffered tragedy all his life. That night ends in tragedy when Bigger kills Mary in a claustrophobic space, A powerful book about a young black man named Bigger Thomas who kills a white woman out of fear for his own life. Richard Wright takes us to Chicago in the 1930s, where Bigger just obtained a new job working as a chauffeur under the wealthy Dalton family. Mary Dalton, the family's luxurious daughter, and Jan, her communist boyfriend, treat Bigger well - a suspicious feat because Bigger has suffered tragedy all his life. That night ends in tragedy when Bigger kills Mary in a claustrophobic space, leading to a violent cycle he cannot escape. Wright does a fantastic job of showing many things: the political, economic, and interpersonal disadvantages faced by blacks, the way society will capitalize on dis-empowering the underprivileged, and the possible reclamation of self-governance that blacks can assert with effort and time. However, I most appreciated his commitment to revealing the inner workings of Bigger's brain. He captures the psychological repercussions of racism and how prejudice contributes to Bigger's actions. Wright does not render Bigger likeable; rather, he uses Bigger's character as an exploration of externalized and internalized racism. The depth in which Wright writes Bigger's inner world reveals the fraught complexities inherent within an oppressed person's psyche. Overall, another great read in my Social Protest Lit course, and recommended to those interested in the psychology and sociology of race relations. I wrote a seven-page-paper on Native Son, so it has a ton of quality material, even though some of that material may make you squirm - or shake - in fury and/or disgust.

  22. 4 out of 5

    David

    Bigger Thomas, the protagonist of Native Son, is a shiftless, bullying, vulgar young man who begins the book tormenting his poor mother, goes to a billiards club to plan a robbery with his equally ne'er-do-well friends, then he and one of his friends goes to a movie theater to masturbate in the seats. He ends the book accused of the capital rape and murder of a white girl, whom he did murder (but did not in fact rape), but by his own words to his lawyer, makes clear that raping her was something Bigger Thomas, the protagonist of Native Son, is a shiftless, bullying, vulgar young man who begins the book tormenting his poor mother, goes to a billiards club to plan a robbery with his equally ne'er-do-well friends, then he and one of his friends goes to a movie theater to masturbate in the seats. He ends the book accused of the capital rape and murder of a white girl, whom he did murder (but did not in fact rape), but by his own words to his lawyer, makes clear that raping her was something he might have done, if the circumstances had been only slightly different. In other words, Bigger Thomas is the Big Scary Negro personified, a nightmare manifestation of white America's racial fears. And that was Richard Wright's point. He wasn't trying to make Bigger Thomas sympathetic as an individual. He was, as he explains in my edition's afterword ("How 'Bigger' was Born") trying to show how American society creates Biggers. Written in 1940, Native Son describes a pre-Civil Rights Act America in which segregation was still the law of the land and political correctness had not yet banished "boy" and "nigger" from polite discourse. So on the surface one might think that Native Son is nearly as dated as, say, Uncle Tom's Cabin. But Wright (the grandson of slaves) was not addressing anything as simple as segregation or racial epithets. In the interior monologues of his protagonist, he spells out the alienation and hostility of men like Bigger, and comparisons with today's society, with a prison-industrial complex that exists largely to incarcerate black men, are hard to avoid. Richard Wright was apparently a novelist of the naturalist school, and his writing has been criticized for its lack of imagery or style and a tendency towards polemics. There are a lot of monologues and speeches in Native Son, particularly in the closing arguments of Bigger's trial, which take up most of the second half of the book. Bigger's defense attorney, Max, a Jewish communist (as the prosecutor points out repeatedly), eloquently and at length presents what is essentially a "society made him do it" argument. "Let me, Your Honor, explain further the meaning of Bigger Thomas' life. In him and men like him is what was in our forefathers when they first came to these strange shores hundreds of years ago. We were lucky. They are not. We found a land whose tasks called forth the deepest and best we had; and we built a nation, mighty and feared. We poured and are still pouring our soul into it. But we have told them: 'This is a white man's country!' They are yet looking for a land whose tasks can call forth their deepest and best." To which the prosecutor responds with a brief, vitriolic "protect your daughters from scary niggers" speech. "Every white man in America ought to swoon with joy for the opportunity to crush with his heel the woolly head of this black lizard, to keep him from scuttling on his belly farther over the earth and spitting forth his venom of death!" There can be little doubt who's going to win over the jury. Despite its thickness and its soapboxing, I did not find Native Son at all boring, and it was powerful because when Wright describes Bigger's alternating feelings of shame, alienation, reflexive hostility, crushed capacity to dream, and inability to express any of this even to the most helpful of white men, it all rang plausibly to me. Bigger Thomas's murder of Mary Dalton is a horrible tragedy. She was innocent, he is guilty, and yet even the situation that led to her death is a multilayered disaster of racial fear and guilt and misunderstanding. I had not previously read any of the works of Richard Wright, one of the most prominent African-American writers of the 20th century. His biography is interesting to say the least, as he mingled with a Who's Who of the early 20th century cultural scene - W.E.B. Dubois, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Langston Hughes, John Houseman, Orson Welles, Frederic Werthham, etc. He was a member of the Communist Party, but became disenchanted and broke with them not long after Native Son was published. I don't know if this is the definitive book about the Black Experience. Apparently many of Wright's critics think he did a rough cut of ground covered better by Ralph Ellison and others, and the communist influences are, while not completely intrusive, noticeable. Native Son reminded me most strongly of the social novels of Upton Sinclair, who likewise could tell a good story even while being completely unsubtle about his cause. But whereas Sinclair was a muckraker and a rabble-rouser, Wright, I think, saw himself as trying to sound an alarm bell. An alarm bell that still may not have been heard.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Camille

    Uncomfortable...but necessary

  24. 5 out of 5

    Vince Will Iam

    Infuriatingly brilliant! Outrageously gripping! This is my second book by Wright. His Black Boy was already one of my all-time favourites, but I think it fair to say that this novel at least equals it in scope and suspense. The writing is flawless and keeps you on edge from the very first page. Few novelists build tension like Richard Wright. Against the backdrop of a crowded, racially-segregated Chicago, it's no wonder terrible things happen sometimes. So when there is one brash young white fema Infuriatingly brilliant! Outrageously gripping! This is my second book by Wright. His Black Boy was already one of my all-time favourites, but I think it fair to say that this novel at least equals it in scope and suspense. The writing is flawless and keeps you on edge from the very first page. Few novelists build tension like Richard Wright. Against the backdrop of a crowded, racially-segregated Chicago, it's no wonder terrible things happen sometimes. So when there is one brash young white female involved and those long-haired Reds handing out pamphlets on the sly, you can guess this is not going to be pretty... The story is centered on the character of Bigger Thomas, a tough black youngster who wants to feel but once in his lifetime that he exists. Up to the moment when he is caught back by fear and distrust, the most natural feelings he has ever experienced when dealing with white people. Mr Max's final speech will be forever etched in my memory. A burning appeal for freedom and opportunities for all. It takes much courage to tackle racial issues as Wright did. We're in 2020 and my heart was rending while reading this, just to imagine what it must have been for the mid-20th century reader makes me giddy. I heartily recommend it especially in the light of what is happening these days in the US --the Amy Cooper incident and the likes are quite revealing in this respect. You can't go wrong with Native Son. Bigger Thomas will be haunting me for a while. This is literature at its very best.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Are you a White? Do you want to understand how it was for Blacks, particularly those who are poor, in the States, in the 30s and 40s and of course before that too? This book is set in Chicago. You read it to climb into the skin of a Black. It is not pleasant, but it is revealing. Do you dare? The book description just does not get across the most important aspect of the book: you will be in Bigger's skin, and this is scary. As I noted below, for much of the book you will be sitting on the edge o Are you a White? Do you want to understand how it was for Blacks, particularly those who are poor, in the States, in the 30s and 40s and of course before that too? This book is set in Chicago. You read it to climb into the skin of a Black. It is not pleasant, but it is revealing. Do you dare? The book description just does not get across the most important aspect of the book: you will be in Bigger's skin, and this is scary. As I noted below, for much of the book you will be sitting on the edge of your seat. You will need to stop, pause, get a breath of air to go on. I was totally thrilled with the book and its message.... until the end, until the court proceedings. The closing speeches of both the defense lawyer and the state attorney were both long-winded and not believable. The defense lawyer's was too theoretical, not to the point; the author should have been able to do better. The state attorney's speech would have to have been interrupted by the judge! No way could he have said what he said. Nope, here the writing could have been improved. The author was almost lecturing the reader, hammering in his message all too clearly. This book was really amazing, until almost the very end. It is still very good though. The narration of the audiobook by Peter Francis James was f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c!! Superb. Outstanding. He can imitate Black women singing, newspaper reporters, radio announcements; he did everybody perfectly. DO read this book!!! Or listen to it. *********************************** After Book One, so still just at the very beginning: I have begun. What a book!!! Do you want a book with suspense, one that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat from the start AND one that has/had an important message AND one that is perfectly executed? Every word is simple but perfect. I am scared with every move. I understand that Bigger is dangerous. Dangerous, not with evil intent, but from fear. And the white girl's total incomprehension makes me hate her more than even Bigger could hate her. What happens is NOT Bigger's fault; it is Mary's, the daughter of Bigger's new white employer. See the book description; this is not a spoiler. Did I say this was suspenseful? It is also heartrending. I DO understand that Mary is young and naive. She too has only good intentions. ******************************* I will reread this too. Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man) and Richard Wright were friends. This time I will listen. Narration by Peter Francis James is available at Audible and Downpour, and it is supposed to be good. Will I still give this four stars on my second reading?

  26. 4 out of 5

    Missy J

    "Confidence could only come again now through action so violent that it would make him forget. These were the rhythms of his life: indifference and violence; periods of abstract brooding and periods of intense desire; moments of silence and moments of anger - like water ebbing and flowing from the tug of a far-away, invisible force. Being this way was a need of his as deep as eating." 4.5* Bigger Thomas might be the most difficult character I've come across in fiction. Never have a I felt so "Confidence could only come again now through action so violent that it would make him forget. These were the rhythms of his life: indifference and violence; periods of abstract brooding and periods of intense desire; moments of silence and moments of anger - like water ebbing and flowing from the tug of a far-away, invisible force. Being this way was a need of his as deep as eating." 4.5* Bigger Thomas might be the most difficult character I've come across in fiction. Never have a I felt so uncomfortable while reading a work of fiction. Bigger makes one bad decision after another, commits two heinous crimes, literally digs his own grave and yet, he feels like he could not act any other way. Furthermore, Bigger Thomas is inarticulate and so unaware of his own potential. It's painful to read about such a character. Without a doubt, Richard Wright achieved his goal of making the reader come face to face with America's biggest sin. Bigger Thomas can't escape from the horrible crimes he committed, similarly the reader can't turn away from what Wright presents. In general, Wright's writing is accessible, clean and straight to the point. The author created a dozen characters who are all memorable and representative of different values (racism, capitalism, communism...). The book is divided into three stages - fear, flight and fate. For me, the opening scene with the rat is one of the most memorable scenes I've read (possibly because I have a super big fear of rats). Highly recommend this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    Richard Wright's Native Son is the story of a crime, though not so much the story of the crimes of the book's protagonist, Bigger Thomas, the directionless, impoverished amoral black youth eking out an existence in a cold and dark Chicago in the late 1930s. The crime, it goes without saying, is the subjugation of black people and the differing set of disadvantageous rules proscribed for them in the United States. A book review on this topic could, with great ease, spill over the boundaries of Goo Richard Wright's Native Son is the story of a crime, though not so much the story of the crimes of the book's protagonist, Bigger Thomas, the directionless, impoverished amoral black youth eking out an existence in a cold and dark Chicago in the late 1930s. The crime, it goes without saying, is the subjugation of black people and the differing set of disadvantageous rules proscribed for them in the United States. A book review on this topic could, with great ease, spill over the boundaries of Goodreads' 20,000-character limit, an unfortunate thing to realize, since the issues would have to touch on the fact that -- even though many things have improved in the nation since this book was published in 1940 -- there are too many fundamental problems that remain. Wright did a brave thing with this book. He created a black male protagonist who commits two brutally violent crimes against human beings, against women, against black and white women, against two women who were trying to help him, no less. In other words, if Bigger Thomas is supposed to represent the de-facto "heroic" victim of white oppression, Wright has chosen to make that victim someone who is almost impossible for us to like or sympathize with. Today, it is easier for us to take a more sophisticated view of things and realize the moral complications inherent in Wright's conundrum. In 1940 though, this was dynamite, and not so easy to parse, both for black and white Americans who were either on the sides of fighting prejudice or sustaining it. Racists could point to Bigger Thomas and say, "See, that's how they are, at the end of the day." Social-justice whites and blacks could say, "Mr. Wright, we need all the help we can get right now, so why are you writing a novel about the black plight in America by showing the worst of the race? People won't understand this. Give us a hero." In Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (a book I liked far more, admittedly), the protagonist seems to have a right to his righteous indignation because even after he has done what he's supposed to do he finds out it's all a game designed to keep him down. He's intelligent, sensitive, sophisticated, and can articulate his outrage -- in other words, not "deserving" of the treatment he receives. He "deserves" equality. Bigger Thomas deserves equality, too, of course. But as the product of an oppressive system, he is warped, damaged, confused, ill-informed, and misinformed -- a genetic mutant in a helix contaminated by toxins that infect the entire body politic. Wright dares us to look past Bigger as an individual, or, more accurately, to look past his unforgivable crimes. He seems to say: this is the worst of us, and who among you doesn't have ones like him? He is not us, and yet, to a degree, he is us. He's just as much a product of America as the Ford automobile. Where does Bigger's free will and his conditioning converge and diverge? Is he really wholly responsible? One of the most interesting passages in the book occurs just as the police are about to close in on Bigger. He is hunkering down in an unoccupied tenement unit in hiding, and through the walls he hears a heated conversation between two South Side residents, both black, and both with definite opinions about Bigger and what he represents. One argues that, no matter how bad Bigger is, he is black and I would never turn in a fellow black man, solely on the principle that we, as a people have been oppressed by Whites for so long that I simply won't help them out. The other man argues that Bigger is a criminal who deserves to be punished, partly because he has brought even more wrath down on the black community. It's an interesting argument, and neither of the participants is wholly wrong or wholly right. As the book painstakingly details the slow, inexorable, unremittingly bleak arc of Bigger's hopeless final days, we begin to understand, at least on some level, his angry sense of rebellion borne of his frustrations at his lack of viable choices in life. The story is even sadder when you realize his first murder is not premeditated, but is the result of a panicked response to protect himself from a known racial taboo. He is helping a white girl, but by being in her bedroom he has transgressed beyond the acceptable pale. Hiding that only exacerbates the crime into something that is conflated far beyond what he actually did -- it provides the racist legal system a field day, and who wouldn't believe that system over Bigger? Native Son is a landmark, and, a must-read. It would be folly to even challenge its importance to black literature and to American literature in general. But, as is my right, I have to say I simply didn't love it. In some ways, I felt like it contained *too much* story. That's what I preferred about Invisible Man -- its impressionism rather than a reliance on plot imperative. Often, Native Son feels rather stolidly Dickensian. It is the anti-Great Expectations, and might easily have been titled No Expectations, and yet both books have the same narrative style, at least as far as it seems to me. For a 19th-century novel, that's OK; for something more modern, it feels a little quaint. As I read this, I couldn't help also being reminded of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov comes to believe he has the right to kill, and finds idealogical justifications for it. Bigger Thomas is not much different from that. Both men stew in a kind of guilt, awaiting their fates in dark hiding places that cannot remain dark forever. There also were times in Native Son where I felt I had stumbled into a pulp crime novel of the '40s, with its fast-talking unscrupulous reporters and tough-talking brutish cops. Oddly, I couldn't help but ascertain parallels between the book and Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's well-known play of the time, The Front Page, which was made into a great film called His Girl Friday in 1940, the year this book was published. Both touch on burgeoning radical movements of the time (though Communism is not mentioned outright in the film) and the killers in hiding in both are seen as products of their environment, poorly educated lower-class outsiders being manipulated by all sides of the political spectrum. Bigger is used by both left and right-wing forces in pushing their ideological agendas, and so is the inarticulate immigrant criminal in His Girl Friday. One thing about the book that struck me as problematic is Wright's authorial need to overlay meaning to Bigger's plight or to plant grand thoughts in his head, in ways that are sometimes forced or obvious. Bigger, as is well established early on, is a limited thinker, an undereducated and unsubtle person. Yet, later in the book, relatively sophisticated philosophical ponderings about life and death seem ascribed to his thinking. It's perhaps possible when facing such looming issues in one's life that one might experience a sea-change in one's thought patterns or in one's knowledge of life, but I'm not quite convinced of the veritas of it here. What Wright says about what Bigger thinks may be true, but his character as previously described in the earlier parts of the book doesn't support this well. I don't begrudge the right or necessity of Wright to say things that cried out to be said, but the vector he chooses just didn't fully convince me. I was moved, though, by the feelings of epiphany and regret within Bigger after his long jail discussion with Max the lawyer. For the first time in his life, Bigger has engaged in a thoughtful dialogue with another human being, someone supposed to be the enemy, and at that moment comes to realize the sad unrealized possibilities in life for himself and his people. It was probably best expressed later in the 1970s, when the United Negro College Fund TV advertisements intoned: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." At this moment in the book, Bigger gains a taste of what a "realized" mind, within a context of a just society, might actually feel like. For the first time, he wants to live again. But it is fleeting and unreal. Wright's occasional tendency to stack the deck at times can't be ignored, though. Possibly the worst example in the book is a newspaper article Bigger reads in jail while awaiting his trial. The article describes Bigger in such outlandishly racist ways, and quotes absurd white supremacist sources so heavily, that it simply comes off as unbelievable. No Chicago metropolitan newspaper in the modern era of 1940 would have published such a patently biased article. The article may have been more subtly racist, but not this much. Unless someone can produce evidence of such articles like that existing in a metro Chicago daily of the time, I'm simply not buying it. Wright cheapened his art with such things. Wright's most over-arching argument about the history of oppression is placed in the mouth of, Max, the lawyer defending Thomas in the trial. In defense of Thomas, or more precisely, in defense of all black people, Max orates a beautiful, long, eloquently presented monologue, allowing Wright to say what he can't within the plot confines of the story. Even as I was admiring the speech -- what it said and how it was written -- I kept thinking: Are long-winded self-serving speeches like this actually allowed in real-life testimony, or do they simply exist in dramatic novels and movies? I have to admit, the character in this book I would most like to read a novel about is Bessie, Bigger's tragic girlfriend. Unappreciated, hard-working, tender-hearted; her fate is perhaps the least deserved of all. On top of everything, she is dragged into a vortex that her faint protestations cannot stop. She gives us keen insight into the rationalizations of a woman sticking to an abusive relationship. Like Bigger Thomas she has few options, but as a black woman, she has even fewer. Ultimately, Bigger Thomas finds the only sense of freedom he has ever known in the act of killing. He not only did what he's not supposed to, but he did the worst thing you could do, and nobody -- for once -- could stop him. And in submitting to his own death, he attains a freedom from the control of others. No one can ever get at him anymore. This is a tough book, depressing as hell. I can't fight the feeling that I didn't love it. But I am rational enough to know that it's a must-read. Anyone who can get through this stark magnum opus deserves some credit for dedication. It forces us to face head on issues that people still deflect, deny or lie about. -------- ([email protected] 2016)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Leonard

    From time to time, a voice from the desert would call and awaken us and Native Son was and still is such a voice. Bigger Thomas in a panic suffocated Mary Dalton and then burned her body to hide the crime and to avoid capture he smashed Bessie Mears with a brick and let her freeze to death. There is no question of the brutality of the crimes. An even Bigger, when in jail, believes he deserves to die for them. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog But through the story of Bigger From time to time, a voice from the desert would call and awaken us and Native Son was and still is such a voice. Bigger Thomas in a panic suffocated Mary Dalton and then burned her body to hide the crime and to avoid capture he smashed Bessie Mears with a brick and let her freeze to death. There is no question of the brutality of the crimes. An even Bigger, when in jail, believes he deserves to die for them. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog But through the story of Bigger Thomas, Richard Wright depicts a people confined to the edge of existence. Their physical segregation, having to live in certain neighborhoods in the city, symbolizes their existential segregation. Mr. Dalton, the building’s owner and Bigger’s employer, donates to help the Black community, but still allows his landlords to only rent units in certain neighborhood to Blacks. Perhaps the social force overwhelms this man’s will to kindness. To Bigger, white people aren’t flesh and blood but an impersonal force overwhelming him. “To Bigger and his kind white people were not really people; they were a sort of natural force, like a stormy sky looming overhead, or like a deep swirling river stretching suddenly at one's feet in the dark. As long as he and his black folks did not go beyond certain limits, there was no need to fear that white force. But whether they fear it or not, each and every day of their lives they lived with it.” So when Mary and Jan try to befriend Bigger and treat him better than other whites had, Bigger feels that force upon him. They, perhaps unknowingly, exert their power on him and Bigger resents that, even if the power comes from their kindness and goodness. He doesn’t want to be told what to do; he wants to live. And so he hates Mary and Jan for forcing him to do something he doesn’t want to. He tells his attorney Max, “Mr. Max, a guy gets tired of being told what he can do and can’t do. You get a little job here and a little job there. You shine shoes, sweep streets; anything… You don’t make enough to live on. You don’t know when you going to get fired. Pretty soon you get so you can’t hope for nothing. You just keep moving all the time, doing what other folks say. You ain’t a man no more.” Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog “‘I always wanted to do something,’ he mumbled.” Bigger wants to fly a plane but he is Black and he is poor, so he can’t attend aviation school. And he expresses this confinement to his friend Gus as “They don’t let us do nothing.” While he’s on the run, Bigger realizes that killing the two girls was his only true acts of living in his entire life. He has done something to assert his existence rather than follow the dictates of other. “In all of his life these two murders were the most meaningful things that had ever happened to him. He was living, truly and deeply, no matter what others might think, looking at him with their blind eyes. Never had he had the chance to live out the consequences of his actions; never had his will been so free as in this night and day of fear and murder and flight.” It is Bigger’s tragedy that only through killing the girls could he assert his existence, could he live. I recommend Native Son for its depiction of a people living in the fringes, the despair and the sense of confinement, the longing to live fully. We need not agree with all of Richard Wright’s arguments to sense that despair and struggle, to appreciate the progress since the book’s publishing, to assess the road ahead. And realize our common humanity.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ted

    What with a second Like of a the previous blank review (to say nothing of the pathetically non-puissant comments I've made below regarding the desire to read it again), I have become aware that I must reread this in the coming year. Must. Must. Must! The only thing to prevent it is my memory of the declaration I've just made. I still have the book after all these years. Shame on me. Actually I've now done something at home that I think will make it a high-probability read in 2018. . . . . . . . . What with a second Like of a the previous blank review (to say nothing of the pathetically non-puissant comments I've made below regarding the desire to read it again), I have become aware that I must reread this in the coming year. Must. Must. Must! The only thing to prevent it is my memory of the declaration I've just made. I still have the book after all these years. Shame on me. Actually I've now done something at home that I think will make it a high-probability read in 2018. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Previous review: The Works of Archimedes Random review: The Misanthrope Next review: 2017 on Goodreads Previous library review: Look Homeward Angel Next library review: Without Feathers Woody Allen

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tavan

    Richard Wright is a great existential writer and this book has become one of my all time favorites. One which deserves to be ranked along side the works of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. It is probably one of the most insightful and heart rending explorations of the African American experience in literature. One could see why it received widespread condemnation at the time when it was written. It’s a story that frightened white and black Americans alike. Yet such a story needed to be told. Wright show Richard Wright is a great existential writer and this book has become one of my all time favorites. One which deserves to be ranked along side the works of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. It is probably one of the most insightful and heart rending explorations of the African American experience in literature. One could see why it received widespread condemnation at the time when it was written. It’s a story that frightened white and black Americans alike. Yet such a story needed to be told. Wright shows that African Americans yearn for meaning in life as much as anyone else and how this struggle for meaning is doubly hard in a society where one’s life seems to be without value. It shows how this can become toxic and ultimately fatal. I highly recommend giving it a read.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.