Dehumanization of Women

In the novel, “Native Son”, Richard Wright uses distinct vocabulary to narrate the murder of Bessie. In this scene, Bigger repeatedly strikes Bessie in the head with a brick until “… he seemed to be striking a wet wad of cotton, of some damp substance…” (Wright 237). My first time reading this, I assumed that Wright’s word choice was for imagery purposes. However, after the class presentation on Wednesday, I believe there is a separate motive. The use of the word “cotton” is intentionally used along with the use of the phrase “damp substance” to distance Bessie from humanity. Wright could have used human characteristics to describe her murder, but instead he uses commodities. She is seen as an object to be purchased and used for men’s desires. 

Even during the trial, Bessie’s body is used for evidence towards Mary’s murder and to prove the inhumane characteristics of Bigger Thomas. There is no respect for Bessie as a human being.  At one point, Bigger wishes to put vulnerable Bessie in his chest “… just to know that she was his to have and hold whenever he wanted to” (Wright 140). She is seen as an object for Biggers consumption.

In “Many Thousands Gone” Baldwin writes, “… no American Negro exists who does not have his private Bigger Thomas living in his skull” (Baldwin 32). In other words, no black American male exists who does not battle with anger, fear, and hatred in his mind. At the time of her death, Bessie also expresses her internal anger, fear, and hatred toward Bigger and her own life (Wright 229-230). It seems that Bigger and Bessie are more similar than Wright and Baldwin give credit for. Wright and Baldwin act like women are tools that are invulnerable to the emotions that characterize Bigger. They imply that women are subhuman and do not go through the same struggles men do although they are in the same environments.. “Native Son” does not represent a black struggle, but a male struggle. 

2 thoughts on “Dehumanization of Women”

  1. I agree that the dehumanization of women is a faux par committed by both Baldwin and Wright. Unfortunately, neither one of them considers women important enough to use them as anything other than a plot device, which makes them more into objects than people. They seem like collateral damage which is not important enough to be discussed. Even when Bessie is raped, Wright describes her as a wad of cotton. For me, that was the worst moment because he willingly objectified a woman that was undergoing sexual assault. Even Bigger, who commits sexual assault understand that the person he is raping is a living human being, which is why he kills her.

  2. The use of women as objects was so present in Native Son, and Baldwin and Wright both seem to have some level of blinders on when it comes to incorporating the black female experience into their work. I wonder, then, how the female characters will develop in Go Tell It on the Mountain. So far, the mother of John has taken on a more active role, affirming her son by giving him birthday money. It is clear that the relationship between him and his mom is more than just an objectifying or passive one. The aunt of John is also willing to confront the dad and question his moral authority. But still, the main characters are all men and the conflict only includes men. I am curious to see how the female characters develop as the story continues.

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