Society puts Bigger through a lot of hardships simply because of the color of his skin. He is restricted from applying to flying school because it is meant for the white folks. He must live on a certain side of Chicago, which is separate from where the lighter skinned people live. And, he has to listen to his mother’s constant bickering about how useless he is. It seems like Bigger is stuck in a trap created for him. He begins his journey as a small-time crook who steals from stores with his friends, because he has been told all his life that his opportunities are restricted due to the color of his skin. He tries to get out of this trap and create a better life for himself, and his family, by taking a job he is qualified for and serving white people. Yet, he ends up worse off and becomes a murderer and a rapist. It seems that Wright is trying to argue that the criminal Bigger is a creation of society which has undermined his race and forced him to become someone who ends up in jail. However, I think it is not just society, but Bigger’s dramatic nature which turned him into a criminal.
Bigger seems to be a man who loves drama. Native Son begins with a dramatic scene where everyone in the apartment is trying to catch a rat. All the people in that scene are of the same color, they belong to the same family, and have the same financial problems. Yet, it is Bigger who sees himself as the rat being chased around by society just trying to run away. Not move forward, but away. Bigger is the rat with “black beady eyes glittering, [his] tiny forefeet pawing the air restlessly.” It is because he sees a reflection of himself, that Bigger’s swing of the skillet is a tad late and he first misses the rat. No one else in that room identifies themselves as the rat. He is also rude to his mother who only wants what is best for him – a job. Even if Bigger does not want the job, he can say so politely or just hear what she has to say and not reply while continuing to do his own thing. But, he replies to every insult and advice with arrogance, and even his little sister has to intervene at times. His love for drama is also evident when he creates a plan to rob a store, gets afraid of doing so, and then blames Gus for being afraid to rob it. His treatment of Gus is unnecessary, but Bigger likes to create a scene. He humiliates Gus, instead of just letting him go. If Bigger wanted, he could have ended the drama there. Yet, he “slashed [Doc’s] table and dared him to use his gun.” His love for drama in his life pushes him to become the worst possible version of himself.
It is because of Bigger’s love for drama around him that he constantly creates it, and then becomes a victim of his own creation. He does not need to drop Mary to her room, or kill her. Bigger’s a man with a flair for drama. He takes one dramatic step after the other, and eventually spirals down to becoming a murderer.
One thought on “Drama Queen Bigger”
I agree that Bigger lashes out in ways that are correct to call dramatic, but I am not sure that we can parse out which actions of his are purely his personality and which are the result of the conditions that formed him. A cocktail of fear, self hatred, and a need to assert his manhood mix together in many of the instances you mention. The drama of the Gus fight, for instance, does not seem to occur just for the sake of drama. Rather, Bigger is truly afraid of the plan he hatched and feels the need to mask this fear. His “dramatic” actions are attempts to “relieve the tautness” (36) built up inside of him. It may stand, then, that dramatic outbursts are the ways in which Bigger deals with the pressures of his circumstances.
I still agree, however, that Bigger seems disconnected from the rest of the black characters in the text (as you pointed out in the initial rat scene). This, as Baldwin points out in his criticism, is one of the reasons Bigger becomes more symbolic than human. In the character of Bigger there is a “failure to convey any sense of Negro life as a continuing and complex group reality” (CE, 30). In short, Wright fails to connect Bigger to his community, which makes him overly monstrous and subhuman.
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