Yes, but no.

The presentations last week illuminated some remaining questions I have on the effects of Native Son. In Notes on Native Son, I thought James Baldwin accurately articulated one of the most significant issues with Native Son as the lack of humanity in Bigger and in the story in general. Though Wright intended to highlight the brutal realities of being Black in America, I did not feel his novel accurately depicted most Black people’s experiences. Bigger was murderous, violent, and unable to process his own identity. Despite the racist structures present in America, Black people do not just resort to this behavior. The anti-Blackness and classism prevalent in American society during the early 20th century certainly had countless detrimental effects on African Americans’ lives. There are prejudicial structures that arguably plague every institution that rules our society, and laws are codified to defend and promote these systems. Reading about these realities is one thing, but the lived experiences are often indescribable; Wright’s attempt to describe these realities was undoubtedly impactful but not reflective of the true Black American experience. 

After last week’s final discussions on Native Son, it became clear to me that many readers of the novel are compelled to believe that societal oppression can lead Black men to commit the acts that Bigger did. I do not identify with this novel. It is not because I don’t identify with the difficulties of being Black in America, but rather because, despite the societal oppression that I and other Black Americans face, we as humans are more motivated by a respect for and in the preservation of humanity than we are by violence and anger. Contrary to the story told in Native Son, Black Americans–specifically Black men–constantly must look past the difficulties posed by racial prejudice in order to maintain their humanity. I argue that Wright’s novel portrays a man who loses control rather than what most Black Americans experience. 

Additionally, the title of Native Son implies a sort of deterministic reality for Black American men. It almost suggests that they have rage, anger, and hate that may or may not lead them to resort to violent actions because they are oppressed. This is not consistent with my lived reality of interacting with Black men who look past the prejudice they face because it is innate to maintain humanity rather than commit violent acts. While structures in American society do disproportionately affect Black men, Bigger is not an accurate portrayal of what is “native” in any humans. I agree with Baldwin that humanity lacked in this novel and argue that it did not accurately represent Black men in America. 

One thought on “Yes, but no.”

  1. I definitely agree with your blog post in that I do not think that Native Son accurately represents the experience of Black men in America. Bigger is a fictional character who reacts to every setback in an extreme manner. If white readers hold him up as an example or as foreshadowing of what all Black men are eventually capable of in extreme circumstances, this sets a dangerous precedent of fear and ignorance. It also devalues all of the Black individuals who have faced these same issues and have still managed to persevere and live good, fulfilling lives. It is therefore extremely problematic for people to read this novel and believe that this is what all or most Black men will become if their situation is similar to Bigger’s.

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