Duality in Native Son

While Native Son is not my favorite book, Wright does an excellent job of depicting the duality of humanity and the different binaries prevalent in American culture. Wright tells a story about the negative implications of racial prejudice, toxic masculinity, and financial poverty through the heinous, violent, and erratic behavior and story of Bigger. Initially when reading Book One, I did not understand why Wright considered Bigger’s behavior specific or unique to the Black male experience. While reading Book One I considered the majority of Bigger’s actions to be consistent with toxic masculinity or the desire to conform to ideals of manhood promoted in dominant culture. Between his interactions with the Dalton’s, his friends, and Mary, Bigger exhibits violent behavior at times he feels he lacks control. Bigger actions are most extreme at times he feels people are challenging him, especially when he feels his masculinity is challenged. Because Bigger’s self-image is so distorted by societal prejudice, he does not know himself, and resents himself. This resentment is worsened by the struggles he faces because of his identity as a poor Black man from the SouthSide of Chicago. While the audience should obviously be disturbed by Bigger’s actions, even I found myself feeling sympathetic for Bigger at times- as it was clear he was set up to fail. All humans lack the freedom to choose who they are born as, and Bigger’s self-resentment was the consequence of being born into a life with no options, or only bad ones. It is often easy to judge the choices and actions of others when we have not been in their same position. While Bigger’s actions are heinous and inexcusable, the conditions of his life were far less than ideal and he was becoming mentally unhinged due to his lack of control.

Though initially it was hard for me to see anything but toxic masculinity, it is evident that Bigger faced many of his challenges not due to his gender and identity issues, but also because of his race. Bigger’s blackness in a time filled with blatant racial discrimination, certainly contributed to him living a life with less than ideal conditions. I believe that this intersection of Bigger’s identities represents Wright’s conception of struggles unique to Black male experience. Wright is able to depict both the struggles of man, that make audiences sympathize, and the worse of man, that makes audiences uncomfortable. This depiction of the duality of the human experience is what makes the book have depth.