Explanation or Justification?

When reading “How Bigger was Born,” I couldn’t help but see Wright’s explanation of how Bigger’s character came to be as rather a justification for creating such a hateable character. His articulation of the different Biggers he had met throughout his own life seemed too shallow to have accounted for the depth of Bigger’s character in the novel. Book Three stressed the idea that Bigger was created by this country and its people–anything that Bigger was resulted from what this country facilitated him to be. So to me, Bigger could be seen as sort of a placeholder for any Black man (I’m intentionally using the word man here because it seems as though Wright wasn’t concerned with Black women). This image of Bigger as representing a group seems undermined by the 5 individuals cited as his muse. 

Additionally, regarding the idea of Bigger as a native son, I’m tempted to ask: what about Bessie? Is she not also born of this country, a native daughter, or is she simply a means to an end? It seems like, to Wright, she was merely the latter, and in writing her as so, I feel as though the message about race becomes undermined almost completely.

I find it difficult–impossible really–to defend sexual violence against women (or anyone). To me, rape and sexual assault are a different level of egregious. As we discussed in class, I understand that Wright wanted us to see an image like the one in Freedom, and think that nobody, not even Biggers, deserve such treatment–and I do. But I also see Bessie and think the same for her. I don’t think Bigger should have been sentenced to die, but not because I was able to empathize with him for his crimes. I don’t think he should have been put to death simply because I don’t believe in capital punishment, but I did feel sorry for him. However, I think it’s important to mention that as much as I felt sorry for Bigger and his “fate,” I felt worse for Bessie and hers. It’s difficult to see Bigger and his crimes as a result of a racist country that created Bigger when Wright failed to address Bessie and her blackness in America as well. He lost me in his treatment of women. Rape is what one does to women, and its effects last a lifetime.

3 thoughts on “Explanation or Justification?”

  1. I also agree with the points made here! This discussion really makes me think of the concept of “hurt people hurt people” in which a cycle of violence prevents any progress from ever being made in people’s treatment of each other. In reading this novel, it disappointed me that Wright did not seem to care about what Bessie deserved because he was so hung up on how unfairly Bigger was treated. I recognize that Bigger endured a lifetime of hardship, and I know it’s easier said than done, but I wished Bigger (and Wright) had been able to understand how Bessie was also a victim who deserved better instead of solely focusing on trying to defend Bigger’s actions.

  2. I 100% agree with your argument. Wright’s examples for the Bigger’s in his life leave little room for expanding who all can fit into the Bigger mold. I have trouble seeing a “Native Son” representing anyone other than a black man. I can’t see him as white, and while I feel I should see Bigger in women, his refusal to bring them into the picture makes it difficult. Additionally, the way Wright defines rape as having nothing to do with sexual violence left me confused and upset. I had to double and triple take.

  3. I completely agree!
    That quote about what it means to rape makes my blood BOIL. Wright’s misogyny shines through whenever he addresses (or, more fittingly, fails to address) Bessie’s situation. Even in the courtroom, Bigger is afforded a lawyer and several pages’ worth of legal, moral, and emotional defense. Bessie, on the other hand, is presented as a corpse on a slab: voiceless to the jury and readers alike, but no more so than she has been the whole novel. Bessie is marginalized because she is Black, yes, but furthermore because she is a woman. As such, Bigger is not only the product of an oppressive society, but a damning part of it.

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