Fate or Consequence 

Book Three of Native Son by Richard Wright, titled “Fate”, attempts at humanizing Bigger Thomas by establishing his case as bigger, no pun intended, than his troubling psyche. Although the reader can predict what is going to happen to Bigger early on in the novel, the majority of “Fate” tries to convince the reader that somehow Bigger might escape his fate. The reader is forced to question if Bigger deserves the death penalty and his lawyer Max makes a pretty decent case for him to be saved. Max’s character plays into the white saviorism trope along with Jan and Mary’s characters and his relation to solidarity becomes clear when he talks about his place in society as a Jewish person. Max’s argument to the court on behalf of Bigger is probably the one clarity one will get from the novel. He tries to make sense of Bigger’s actions and turn the situation into an argument of the collective African American experience. I think that he knew that Bigger couldn’t be saved but he used the situation to make a case for social injustice in america. It’s pretty clear that Bigger is going to die though, no matter how convincing Max’s speech is. Although noble, how do you make sense of a disaster? It’s hard to analyze this novel and establish some sort of meaning to it because everything is so hard to justify. It’s hard to give Bigger’s life any meaning because his behavior was so extreme that one cannot just say he’s a product of his environment. It seems as though Wright wants the reader to hate Bigger from the way he writes about him. Throughout the novel Wright feels the need to remind us that Bigger is a poor black man who is going to live a poor black life and never amount to anything. For example, deep into the novel on page 285 it states, “Bigger’s black face rested in his hands and he did not move” (Wright 285). Wright wants the reader to have a negative connotation of the word “black”. What’s even worse about this book is that the ending establishes prison as fate for black men. Prison is often described as a place of familiarity for black men and this novel contributes to that stereotype. Max argues that prison will be a refuge for Bigger, which is a paradoxical concept. Max describes life in prison as literally giving Bigger a chance at a better life, but how much growth could occur when Bigger is portrayed as unsaveable? Death is the fate of all humans, but this depressing narrative connotes death with blackness. It’s hard to make sense of this novel just as it is hard to make sense of Bigger’s character. 

3 thoughts on “Fate or Consequence ”

  1. Thank you for pointing out how paradoxical Max’s take on prison is for Bigger. That was something I was questioning as well. It’s certainly an argument on Max’s end but it seems more like a feeble attempt at altruism rather than any active effort to help Bigger. I think it is also interesting how Wright plays with hope in book three. I think you had a great take on by introducing hope that Bigger might get out, the reader has to consider whether or not Bigger should get out. All in all, agreed, this book is depressing.

  2. I really resonated with your point about Mr. Max’s speech being one of the few moments of clarity in the book in terms of understanding Bigger. Related to your point about white saviors, I, too, struggled to decipher whether Mr. Max had truly altruistic intentions or was looking to make a greater argument against capitalism, himself being a communist and associated with Mary and Jan. Ironically, however, I think that just as we come to better understand Bigger, Bigger finally allows himself to understand himself, thanks to the encouragement and humanizing done by Mr. Max. This makes me believe that Mr. Max did want to help Bigger, though his impact was manifest is an unexpected, intangible, and less satisfactory way for us as readers.

  3. I think you make a great point about the message Wright communicates about Blackness through Bigger’s character and the consequences he faces as a Black man in white America. I also understand your confusion with the whole novel and with Bigger’s character. For me, it is almost like why would Wright communicate and implicate all of these negative things about Black people? It would just fuel the fire even more and allow his predominantly white audience to think more negatively and stereotypically about Black people. But, although we may not see it now I do think that there is perhaps a good reason or meaning behind Wright’s writings. Perhaps, as you explain when discussing Bigger’s lawyer Max, it is to bring more attention to many of the social injustices against Black people in America.

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