Whose protest novel?

After last Monday’s class, I was having a conversation with a friend on the idea of Native Son being or not being a novel about race. The idea we were stuck on was what a Black woman might feel after reading this novel. How could they identify with its message as a Black reader? Are they supposed to identify with Bigger after his treatment of women, or worse, should they have to identify with Bessie after her treatment by Bigger?

Some of the presentations touched on the differences between Wright’s treatment of racial experiences and Baldwin’s. I truly feel as though Wright misses the mark in trying to get his message across by making the deliberate choices that he did. In failing to understand sexual violence against women and making blatant references to the bible, for instance, that solidified this misunderstanding, I feel as though he lost any connection he might have had to his Black female audience.

In addition, the presentations touched a little on Baldwin’s queer identity. Baldwin seemed to have a more intersectional perspective on the race idea. It’s possible his queer identity gave him the ability to critique Wright’s work and lacking perspective of the issue. I personally agree with Baldwin’s view on the novel and Bigger’s character. Wright did not have to deliver this message by means of stripping Bigger of his humanity. We have referenced in class the idea that Baldwin was growing up and existing in a time where who he was, a gay Black man, could have gotten himself killed. I wonder if when reading this novel, as someone who himself had been a victim of hypermasculinity and the patriarchy, Baldwin was able to have this discerning eye. On the whole, I would have to agree that Native Son is not the most accessible protest novel.