Native Son as Everybody’s Protest Novel

“How Bigger Was Born” is Wright’s attempt to explain to the reader his motives for writing such a gruesome novel. It is hard to believe that the world he creates for Bigger is respectable. His childhood serves as the main factor into his perspective on the experience of black men in America. He claims that he knew several “Biggers” and the one in Native Son is an accumulation of the black men that he watched meet unfortunate endings. In trying to understand his reasons for writing Native Son, he fails to convince me that writing it was “an exciting, enthralling, and even a romantic experience” (461). He argues that black men being accused of rape is “a representative symbol of the Negro’s uncertain position in America” (455). I find this claim to be flawed because Bigger did rape Bessie and wasn’t even charged for rape in the novel. Further, he states that after writing Native Son he started another novel on the status of women in modern America. Wright’s focus on this aspect of the criminalization of black men is concerning, when he claims that he wrote the novel to free himself from a sense of shame and fear that comes from being black in America. In the end Bigger is not really freed from this sense of shame and hate. He buried it under the euphoria he experienced from murder. One of the most striking arguments he presents is that he “was fascinated by the similarity of the emotional tensions of Bigger in America and Bigger in Nazi Germany and Bigger in old Russia. All Bigger Thomases, white and black, felt tense, afraid, nervous, hysterical, and restless” (446). This comparison took me away from the Bigger portrayed in the novel as a person and led me to looking at Bigger as an idea apart from race; a dangerous one. He states, “The difference between Bigger’s tensity and the German variety is that Bigger’s, due to America’s educational restrictions on the bulk of her Negro population, is in a nascent state, not yet articulate. And the difference between Bigger’s longing for self-identification and the Russian principle of self-determination is that Bigger’s, due to the effects of American oppression, which has not allowed for the forming of deep ideas of solidarity among Negroes, is still in a state of individual anger and hatred. Here, I felt, was drama! Who will be the first to touch off these Bigger Thomases in America, white and black?” (447). How is the reader supposed to believe that Bigger is merely a product of his environment when his persona is based on extreme ideals. I am still trying to figure out where I stand with this book and “Everybody’s Protest Novel” brings a little clarity. Baldwin states, “For Bigger’s tragedy is not that he is cold or black or hungry, not even that he is American, black; but that he has accepted a theology that denies him life, that he admits the possibility of his being subhuman and feels constrained, therefore, to battle for his humanity according to those brutal criteria bequeathed him at his birth” (18). Further, “The failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being…” (18). Native Son is a life-draining novel and reflects the depressing state of the war stricken world during the time it was written in.