Fear-Based Violence in Native Son

In Richard Wright’s novel Native Son, Bigger Thomas commits heinous acts of violence directed toward others, most notably his murder of Mary Dalton and his rape and murder of Bessie. In reflecting on his actions following these murders, Bigger expresses no remorse. He wholeheartedly believes that the initial murder is Mary’s fault, describing, “Hell, she made me do it! I couldn’t help it! She should’ve known better! She should’ve left me alone, Goddammit! He did not feel sorry for Mary; she was not real to him, not a human being” (113-114). In this depiction of Bigger’s emotional state, he attempts to rationalize his brutal murder of Mary by placing the blame solely on how she makes him feel. This recurring sequence of strong emotion followed by excessive violence is a common reaction with this protagonist. In the scene where Bigger brings Mary home and helps her up the stairs, Wright writes, “[Bigger’s] fingers felt the soft curves of her body and he was still looking at her, enveloped in a sense of physical elation. This little bitch! he thought” (83). This character clearly struggles to respond appropriately to his emotions, especially when this emotion is fear.

The reader gets a hint of this early on in the novel when Bigger incites a fight with Gus at Doc’s bar. In anticipation of robbing Blum’s store, Bigger suddenly realizes that he is too afraid and therefore does not want to follow through with the plan that he initiated. Instead of verbalizing his emotions and talking the situation out with his friends to reach an understanding, Bigger self-sabotages their plan and picks a fight with Gus. This results in Bigger holding a knife to Gus’s throat and emotionally abusing him, forcing him to lick the knife and threatening him further. Even though his friends might have understood his hesitation, Bigger chooses to react violently before they have a chance to reach a solution. This displays Bigger’s emotional immaturity and reveals, but does not excuse, why he is able to place so much of the blame for his actions on his victims. By refusing to take any personal responsibility for his emotions and subsequent actions, Bigger tries to avoid dealing with any of the fear and shame that he so often describes. Consequently, this prevents him from treating others as human and allows him to believe that he is above any sort of moral obligation to them.