A person’s actions being defined by the color of his or her skin is unfortunately common. As a person of color, I have seen it happen around me for as long as I can remember. It is not just the US, and other countries with predominantly white people, that are racist. India, where people are different shades of brown, has its own share of lightly colored racists. The fairer skinned people are presumed superior to the darker skinned ones. While growing up, I saw these prejudices within my own house, in my conservative grandmother who lives with us. The constant preaching about equality and fairness that my parents gave me contradicted what I saw and heard otherwise. Since then, I made an effort to call any duplicity out and did my best to stand up for what I thought was right. Initially, I felt that Wright was calling out the duplicity and the prejudices African Americans have to face all their lives in Native Son. Which is why I felt saddened by Bigger’s loss of his humanity in book two.
In Book 1 of Native Son, Wright explains the reasons behind Bigger’s anger and his actions well. Bigger is angry at the world because of the way he is treated and the circumstances he has to live in because of his color. Blacks could only rent places in the south side of Chicago. Naturally, the better schools with more educated teachers and greater facilities would have been reserved for more prolific areas, while people like Bigger had to struggle and could not follow their dreams. If Bigger “wasn’t black and had some money,” the white people “would let [him] go to aviation school and fly a plane” (Wright 67) which he desperately wanted to do. He lives in a crappy apartment with his mother and his siblings. On top of all that, his mother is constantly nagging him. She even tells him that she “wonder[‘s] why [she] birthed [him]” (Wright 50) in the first place. All these things contribute to Bigger’s anger, and the only way he knows how to channel it is robbing people along with his friends. Bigger does not know better. He sees the job he finds with Mr. Dalton as his way out of extreme poverty, and desperately wants to keep it. This explains his mistaken murder of Mary in a state of panic.
So far, Wright justifies Bigger’s actions. His humanity is visible in his mistakes and his fear after committing a crime. However, his actions in Book two show his loss of it. The loss of Bigger’s humanity is visible when he loses his conscience and stops feeling for his victim, whom he killed by mistake. It is the moment when Wright writes that Bigger “did not feel sorry for Mary; she was not real to him, not a human being; he had not known her long or well enough for that. He felt that his murder of her was more than amply justified” (Wright 243) that Bigger’s character becomes the Black stereotype and in some way, justifies all the people that blame him for a crime based on his color. Sentences like “to me, a nigger’s a nigger” (Wright 335) hit much harder, because in this case, the Black man did commit the crime and is not even sorry for it.
I found this book extremely problematic because of such a portrayal of the protagonist. Instead of highlighting the prejudice based on one’s color, Wright sadly highlights the validity of such prejudice. This book would reaffirm anyone’s racist thoughts instead of making the reader question them. Sadly, including my grandmother.