Native Son

Native Son

Book - 2005
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"If one had to identify the single most influential shaping force in modern Black literary history, one would probably have to point to Wright and the publication of Native Son." - Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic.

Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Richard Wright's powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.

This edition--the restored text of Native Son established by the Library of America--also includes an essay by Wright titled, How "Bigger" was Born, along with notes on the text.

Publisher: New York : HarperCollins Pub., 2005, c1940.
ISBN: 9780060837563
Branch Call Number: FIC WRIGH
Characteristics: xxii, 504, [16] p.


From Library Staff

List - Book Club 2019/2020
AuroraPLAdult Jun 27, 2019

Meeting September 25, 2019

From the critics

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Jul 24, 2020

Native Son, a novel by Richard Wright, is a book about a 20 year old black boy named Bigger Thomas who lives in the 1930’s. Bigger lives with his mother and his siblings in poverty in Chicago. Bigger, from his mother’s urging, takes a job as chauffeur of the Daultons, a rich family that owns the buildings where Bigger and his family live. Mary Daulton is their extroverted daughter, and Bigger is tasked with driving her. One evening, Bigger accidentally kills Mary after bringing her home. The book then follows Bigger as he reacts to his crime and the actions he takes to try to save himself.

Native Son is a book full of very complex and important issues about race, which deserve to be discussed. While reading the book, I found some parts to be a little slow from a readers’ perspective, however I do think that this book is a very important read. It’s surprising and startling how many similarities there are between the problems of society during the 1930’s and today, and these problems should be brought to light and should be solved. It’s important to remember while reading this book that Bigger Thomas lives a really hard life. Throughout his life, he was taught by society that he could not become anything, so this causes him to have this perspective on life. Bigger is a product of society. If he had lived in a world that didn’t belittle him and tell him that he could never amount to anything, he would have never been in the situation that took place in the story. This book is definitely worth reading, as it will leave you with many important thoughts and questions about society and race.

TSCPL_AlexH Jun 11, 2020

I've struggled with how to rate this book. On the one hand, the prose, pacing, and characterization are stunning. On the other hand, this book challenged me. I often felt angry, uncomfortable, sad, judgemental, horror-stricken, and guilty. This is a book I cannot stop thinking about and because this novel aroused so many emotions I have to give it 5 stars. Will I ever read it again? Probably not. However, I am glad I read Native Son and it will be one of those stories I never forget.

Sep 03, 2019

This book isn't included in the recognized list of Best Sellers for 1940, the year it was first published. Among that year's more memorable titles: Grapes of Wrath, Mrs. Miniver and For Whom The Bell Tolls. Native Son is missing.

It's omission is quite strange, because at the time, its impact was stunning. Native Son caused a huge sensation that went far, far beyond literary circles. One reason: it was written by a Negro. The New Yorker magazine claims,"Nobody in America had ever before told a story like this, and had it published. In three weeks, the book sold two hundred and fifteen thousand copies." If I had reviewed this book in 1940--I would have given it a 5-star rating, no question.

This is perhaps the first modern work of fiction that captures the way life was for "African Americans." Not in 1740 or 1840, but in 1940--contemporary America. Says one character: "Taken collectively, [African Americans] are not simply twelve million people; in reality they constitute a separate nation, stunted, stripped and held captive WITHIN this nation, devoid of political, economic and property rights."

This is the background for the "lurid crime story" (as pulp magazines of the era would have put it) of Bigger Thomas, a black man accused--and found guilty--of two brutal homicides. Author Richard Wright pulls no punches, here. The reader witnesses every gory detail.

Unfortunately, the author also overwrites. The book's a "tough read." Some of Bigger's inner musings are beyond his ability and weaken the book. His defence attorney's "summation" is a monologue 24 pages long. The character's name is Max, but it's really Wright speaking. The courtroom summation offered wright an opportunity to provide a scathing condemnation of America's treatment of the Negro. It's important today, too--because it remains a testament of what life and death was like if you were "coloured."

This isn't a story of the rural South. Richard Wright very consciously chose to place Bigger Thomas's life and crimes in a big northern city. There's no escape for sophisticated folks in a fashionable, forward-thinking metropolis. The only real difference? Bigger's story would have likely been shorter had it occurred in a small town in Mississippi or Alabama. In the big northern urban world in which he lived, at least Bigger Thomas got a trial.

Bonuses in this edition: Wright's essay on writing the novel, and a 12 page author's chronology.

JCLCassandraG Jul 11, 2019

It's been over a decade since I first read Native Son and it seemed time for a re-read. Wright's major accomplishment with this novel is that it takes the most difficult route in proving its point. Wright asks the reader to find humanity in a character who has done great wrong, uses violence to mask feeling, is filled with hate for even close friends and family and is entirely devoid of ambition--he takes the sorriest man he can find & shows us how to find the empathy that characters in the book cannot, shows us how within violent systems of oppression our lives become self-fulfilling prophecies. Wright allows the conscience of Bigger to explode with imperfections & weaknesses but gives him the character of Max to work through these things with. & so much of these things are addressed & dealt with EXCEPT for the ways all of these feelings have been taken out on the women in the novel. A lot of unnecessarily violent misogyny (especially toward the novel's primary black female character) that really mars a book that does so much in asking what kind of life one can have when they live in the shadow of violent oppression.

Mar 28, 2019

I read this for the first time after learning one of the artists I follow, Rashid Johnson, was doing a film adaptation (now out on HBO as of March, 2019). How had I never read this? I tried to encourage friends to read or re-read it so I could have someone to discuss t with, it would have been easier to stomach with friends, but sadly it was a solo endeavor. The line that sticks with me the most is after Bigger is put in jail and he is resisting seeing the lawyer, and he says something to the effect of "I never wanted to experience a feeling like hope ever again." What are we as a society if an individual feels so powerless that they resent the mere idea of hope? This novel remains incredibly relevant.

Mar 09, 2019

Excellent elucidation of the effect on a human being of being surrounded by the bounty of culture and denied it. How this can cause such hate and rage that the act of murder can become the means of self actualization if one is denied every other meaningful avenue.

Jun 29, 2018

"Native Son" the story of Bigger Thomas a young man who aspires to be somebody, caught in a world of ignorance, fear,and misunderstanding! Bigger is smart, talented and thinks outside the box, he won an award for a class project in which his essay was read through out the small town in which he lives, as a result he's selected to read it out loud in public, terrific right?

As things go Bigger is doing well, but instead of becoming college bound he is chosen to become a "driver" for a wealth white man and his family, because that's a good job for smart Negroes! The job is sudden and Bigger must live at the wealthy white's home, so he can be available on call at all times, so he must pack his things to move into the servants quarters of the "Big House"! Still only a teenager Bigger must learn to the rules of "white supremacy" and how to dumb it down, along with his glares at the attractive daughter of the white man, as she has no boundaries and flirts with the young black man which makes for a uncomfortable situation, because blacks are being lynched everyday in America at this time.

So our hero Bigger Thomas is lonely, away from home and living in a cell. And ultimately only a teenager who must learn his place in white America's expectation of who he should be and how he should act! The reader is given a special tour inside the mind of a young black man during the segregated era in American History and the upside expectations of white folks who assume all Negros are the same and know they are inferior, and somehow should know their place in white society just "naturally"!

The story Native Son take a turn for the worse as Bigger Thomas is invited to hang out with the attractive white girl and her progressive boyfriend who also assumes a great deal about black folks, as he speaks to Bigger about being oppressed in the white man's system of capitalism, and his lack of voting rights and unequal treatment under the law. He cool and hip and young and white and male and full of intellectual linguistics and it shows as Bigger is confused and threaten by his proximity as he constantly makes physical contact with Bigger. He smokes weed and listens to jazz music and drinks and the both of them (he and the young white girl) over indulge in their partying that night. Now it late, and Bigger is the designated driver who see them home, but this young lady is passing out drunk and needs assistance getting into the house and it's late, and now she making a sexual advance toward the young Bigger Thomas.... What? Really?.... Can you guess what is next? Bet you can't, or I think you need to read the book, because it get twisted sideways and takes turns not expected....

"Native Son" by Richard Wright is a deeply mind bending story made into a movie, on of which star's the writer Richard Wright as the lead character...

Ghettostone Publications Company has a tradition of learning about our culture and history, so of course "Native Sons" is highly recommended for book lovers of all shades, (smile)
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Jun 16, 2016

In order to fully understand this book, it may be necessary to talk it out with another person. Throughout this book I was appalled at certain parts, especially with how gruesome some of the words were. The storyline was a bit slow as well, but the main message of the book was important. Additionally there were also many symbols throughout the book that were hidden under the surface that were hard to interpret. As a result, I think talking about the book is crucial to one's full understanding. Most importantly, I found Max's speech at the end of the book chilling, and his words vital for humanity.

Sep 03, 2015

Didn't finish. Read about 2/3. Had trouble suspending disbelief -- Bigger was too smart to have made some of the criminal mistakes he made.

Aug 10, 2015

Richard Wright's portrayal of his main character is mesmerizing. It reveals the truth about our society both then and now. Even though this is a work of fiction the characters are real. They exist today! This is a must read for those who want to understand the blacks of the 1940's and the reasons why some lashed out as a result of being marginalized. Only a genius can touch one's psyche as Wright has done.

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Aug 10, 2015

Al6Hameed thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

BrooklynFencingGirl13 Jun 14, 2012

BrooklynFencingGirl13 thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 06, 2016

Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread.

BrooklynFencingGirl13 Jun 14, 2012

"There was no chance of his getting that money now. They had found Mary and would stop at nothing to get the one who killed her."


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