Agency and Fate: Native Son

Book three of Wright’s Native Son is incredibly conflicting as Wright seems to change course from the first two books of the novel and attempts to humanize Bigger Thomas. Wright mainly does so by finally having Bigger give voice to his feelings at the end of the book as well as an extensive argument from Max on Bigger’s behalf. However, the most conflicting aspect of Native Son for me has been the concept of agency. Wright makes the point that Bigger was destined, hence the title Fate, by his environment and the nature of oppression in America to be imprisoned at least if not killed. Max puts the concept succinctly in saying, “We allowed Bigger Thomas nothing. He sought another life and accidentally found one” (398). Wright continually presents the reader with the assertion that the only means of agency for Bigger is murder. “[Bigger] accepted it because it made him free, gave him the possibility of choice, of action, the opportunity to act” (396). Bigger, along with the rest of the Black community, is fatefully driven towards violence. I do not agree with this assertion because the preponderance of fate cedes agency which is already limited by society. 

Wright paints an incredibly pessimistic picture of blackness, one that is dictated by oppression and violence. By no means do I contradict the weight of oppression and systemic hatred and racism, nor do I contradict the effect those have had on Black agency. Clearly, opportunity and agency in America is incredibly different, and continues to favor White people. It continues to disadvantage Black people, from redlining to voter suppression. But agency and blackness are not confined to violence, as Wright seems to argue in Native Son

I was listening to a group of rappers I follow closely (Coast Contra) and one of their pieces touched on pride in themselves, particularly the line “Stop, breathe, give and receive / Nowadays in mind, I stay align, I wake and meditate for space / Been taking time to make these rhymes in hope they elevate all our thoughts / Stop, breathe, give and receive” (Breathe and Stop Freestyle, 4:20 – 4:30). Ras Austin delves deeper into similar feelings of pressure, fear, and confusion later in the verse but still chooses to emphasize the pride in himself and his group for who they are and what they have done. As Black artists, this is a stark contrast to Wright’s depiction of blackness via Bigger Thomas. So while I think Wright excellently points out how systemic oppression and alienation make people feel, I disagree with Wright’s assertion that agency is accessible only through violence. 

One thought on “Agency and Fate: Native Son”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this and I do agree with your final sentence. Throughout the first two stories, Bigger is clearly portrayed as someone who just never was able to express what he truly felt throughout this chapter. I believe that he is also trying to show the readers how important it is when Black people finally express their emotions and fears. Yes, Bigger found agency through violence, but maybe if he just simply expressed the things he was feeling sooner, things would have been okay for him.

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