In reading Wright’s Native Son, one could infer the implications of ignorance and prejudice related to capitalist views of society. In doing some research, I found that Wright himself was a part of the communist party, and that Native Son was published right after the peak of the first “Red Scare” in the United States, which in my personal opinion cannot at all be named a coincidence. In reading his novel, I believe that Wright’s intention was to utilise the communist party and its philosophies as a tool to contrast and highlight the faults of capitalism.
The two individuals who were either explicitly communist or associated with the party in some way (Jan and Max) are normally treated with prejudice and contempt, even if the points they raise and everything else about them fits society’s norms of what an upstanding American man would be (white, male, straight, good job). Additionally, any mention of the communist party is also met with instant hysteria and immediate distrust in the novel.
We can see an example of this during the trial, when Max questions Mr. Dalton’s decisions to make rent higher for Black people and tries to have him acknowledge that his “charitable” actions are done only to appease his white guilt. This is also seen earlier when Max confronts Mr. Dalton about his decision to send ping-pong tables to the South Side Boys club, exclaiming “Will ping-pong keep men from murdering? Can’t you see?… This boy and millions like him want a meaningful life, not ping-pong.” These examples highlight Mr. Dalton’s ignorance and blindness towards the motivation for his own actions, and how he is inevitably further and perpetuating the cycle of oppression by trying to solve problems with money and helping Black people in a way that still maintains his status as a white saviour.
A way that Wright uses communism to highlight the flaws of capitalism is in Max’s discussion about why Bigger signed the ransom note with a communist symbol. Max explains to Buckley that Bigger signed the name of the communist party to the kidnap note because he “got the idea from the newspapers,” and because “men like [Buckley] made him what he is… He had heard men like [Buckley] lie about the communists so much that he believed them.” Max ends this point with “if I can make the people of this country understand why this boy acted the way he did, I’ll be doing more than defending him.” From this last sentence, the reader can see the influence of Wright’s political beliefs in positioning the communist party to consist of those who could see through the ignorant and prejudiced schemes of capitalism, and that they recognise the structural motivations behind actions like Bigger’s because they can see the structural inequities and prejudices that drove his actions.
One thought on “Capitalism & Communism: the Framing of Ignorance and Prejudice”
Just last semester I read Richard Wright’s The Atlantic article “I Tried to Be a Communist,” and I think that you might enjoy taking a look at it to get an even deeper look into Wright’s nuanced opinion of the Communist Party. Having been a Black man working with a faction of the Communist Party, Wright is so deeply aware of the complex relationship that a member of an already subjugated racial group can have with a party that seeks to redeem individuals across race. We can totally see him grappling with this complexity in Native Son!
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