Behind the Mask

The crazed, bipolar, and volatile exterior Bigger fashions for himself is methodically designed to hide his insecurities. Bigger is completely controlled by the multitude of fears that dominate his life. For example, Richard Wright describes the hatred that Bigger has toward his family, “He hated his family because he knew that they were suffering and that he was powerless to help them”(10). Subsequently, he provides the reason why: “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”(10). Bigger’s disdain for them stems from his fear of poverty and failure. Arguably, this is a common narrative for those attempting to defeat poverty’s confines: they use this fear of failure to push and drive them forward. However, Bigger is incapable of doing this. Bigger chooses to bury his fear deep into his soul, reconfiguring himself to act hard and lash out to protect his fear instead of facing it. He feels powerless to defeat the confines of poverty, resulting in him refusing to take job opportunities. Bigger’s is resigned: “Goddammit, I’m always broke” (13).

Bigger struggles with the decision of either taking the job or continuing to live the way he does. “Yes, he could take the job at Dalton’s and be miserable, or he could refuse it and starve” (12). It could be argued that there’s not really a choice as both paths lead to pain. This decision that Bigger is faced with is familiar to those living in poverty. Empathy is required before the judgment of Bigger as poverty, fear, and avoidance of it shapes many actions. In some cases, these choices may not seem logical. Some may be designed for short-term gain and escapism. In my Intro to Social Problems class last semester, we focused on wealth, poverty, and inequality. In a reading directly applicable here, the author stated, “You gravitate toward those that can make you feel special for however long that single experience may be and not worry about any future effects“. Although not healthy for him, the gang that Bigger runs with provides that much-needed companionship that he seeks. His ability to laugh genuinely because of the shared experiences of those around him, is essential to his well-being. He’s keenly aware that this would be sacrificed by taking the job. The author of the article also mentioned, “Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long term brain”. For many in poverty, the ability to dream and look forward is not feasible. While logic might suggest Bigger should take the job, the needed community of those with his same shared experiences of suffering is more powerful. He doesn’t have the will to break away from the tough, but predictable life he knows. The comfort of staying in the place he knows around the people he knows is a path of less resistance. The alternative, working for a white man in a white area of town brings its own set of anxiety and fears. The only opportunity to dream of a path towards a longer-term, better life is done through the movies he watches. The movies are his escape; however, what he sees on the screen is not accessible to him. The life he wants to live is seemingly only accomplished and lived by white people. Once again, he is deterred from this desire to think big, leaving him to suffice his desires by living day-to-day.  

Bigger is severely impacted by his fear of poverty and the mindset he has developed due to this. Bigger’s experience is not unique and it speaks to a broader challenge. The energy he has put into hiding and denying what he goes through leads to his volatile actions. His fears control him, and his actions constantly look to take some control back, leading him down bad paths.