Native son

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorHigh School, 11th grade February 2008

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“Do you believe in fate Neo,” Morpheus asks. “No,” Neo responds. “Why not?” “Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life,” Neo explains. In this scene (from the blockbuster smash hit The Matrix) a parallel can be drawn between Neo and Bigger Thomas (the protagonist in Richard Wright’s novel Native Son) because Bigger shares Neo’s feelings about fate. Bigger Thomas, a boy who has grown up with the chains of white society holding him back from opportunity, has only one solution to escape from the white walls which are closing in on him. His solution is to kill two women (one of whom is the daughter of a rich white family) to demonstrate that he is fed up with his life being controlled by fate. The author does an exceptional job in creating a theme that illustrates how racism takes away the self-control of the oppressed, thus leaving their lives in the hands of fate.

The theme that racism doesn’t allow the oppressed to control their lives can be demonstrated through the symbolism of the rat, the poster outside of Bigger’s apartment, and Bigger’s encounter with the “nut” in jail.

        To Bigger’s chagrin he is not in control of his life. His life is dictated by a large group of white people’s false belief of superiority. With every cause there is an effect, and the effect that this burden has on Bigger turns him into an animal, living for only one thing, survival.

“There he is again, Bigger!” the woman screamed, and the tiny, one-room apartment galvanized into violent action. A chair toppled as the woman, half dressed in her stocking feet, scrambled breathlessly upon the bed. Her two sons, barefoot, stood tense and motionless, their eyes searching anxiously under the bed and chairs. The girl ran into the corner, half stooped and gathered the hem of he slip into both of her hands and held it tightly over her knees… A huge black rat squealed and leaped at Bigger’s trouser-leg and snagged it in his teeth hanging on… Bigger aimed and let the skillet fly with a heavy grunt. There was a shattering of wood as the box caved in… The woman screamed and hid her face in her hands. Bigger tiptoed forward and peered. “I got ‘im,” he muttered [.] (4-6) At first glance this quote could seem meaningless, but later the reader learns in the book that a parallel can be drawn between the big black rat and the big black Bigger. Like the rat, Bigger is not wanted in his environment, any of his actions are obsolete because it is his destiny to be the scum of the earth. Not for any other reason than the white people have taken control of Bigger’s life. They dictate what he can and can’t do, leaving his life no longer in his hands, but the hands of fate. “On all fours he scrambled to the next ledge then turned and looked back” (264). “He continued to crawl” (265). “Bigger’s lips pulled back, showing his white teeth” (336). All these excerpts are the author’s way of illustrating to reader that Bigger and the rat are closely related. Bigger, who is like the rat, can only run and hide so much before he’s trapped and gets a skillet to the head. Bigger though is in essence already trapped, not by any king of physical barrier, but by the hate of the whites. Bigger’s, like the rat’s, destiny is to be trapped and killed which is well demonstrated through symbolism.

        Another factor that would lead the reader to believe that racism does not leave the lives of the oppressed in their hands is something Bigger sees everyday of his life. “They were pasting a huge colored poster to a sign board. The poster showed a white face. “‘That’s Buckley!’ He [Bigger] spoke softly to himself… Above the top of the poster were tall red letters: YOU CAN’T WIN!” (13). This demonstrates what Bigger is up against. Seeing this white face everyday assuring him that he can’t win, is a reminder to Bigger that his life is in the control of the people who hate him and because of that he can’t win. Bigger has no opportunity to flourish in this rich nation. “‘I could fly a plane if I had a chance,’ Bigger said. ‘If you wasn’t black and if you had some money and if they’d let you go to that aviation school, you could fly a plane,’ Gus said” (17). It is Bigger’s fate to be a failure. Like Gus said, Bigger has all these things against him, such as race and income, that he can’t control. These “coincidences” can’t be ignored and can be only be explained as fate. “For a moment Bigger contemplated all the ifs that Gus had mentioned” (17). If Bigger was white, all of the “ifs” would be irrelevant. If Bigger was white, the sky would be the limit. He could do or become just about whatever he wanted and he would be in control of his life. The only way Bigger could take control was to kill two women, and as a result he lost his life.

        Even if Bigger would have gone to college and gotten an education it is his destiny to end up to the way he did.

“He [a black man brought into Bigger’s cell] went off his nut from studying too much at the university. He was writing a book on how colored people live and he says somebody stole all the facts he found. He says he got to the bottom of why colored folks are treated bad and he’s going to tell the President and have things changed, see?” (343) The author demonstrates that the oppressed, whether they took the low road (Bigger) or the high road (the nut”) end up in the same place. The oppressed don’t have control of their lives and the author proves it by showing how fate brought these two polar opposites together. “ ‘I was trying do something else. But it seems like I never could. I was always wanting something and I was feeling that nobody would let me have it’ ” (425). Bigger expresses that a different force drove him, something made him do the things he did and that is fate. It was just made to be that he would end up dead for the women he killed. “He had lived outside of the lives of men. Their modes of communication, their symbols and images, had been denied him” (422). Bigger doesn’t understand the hate, communication, and expressions of the whites. So, as a result he is forced to just float through life being lead by only one thing, fate.

        The lives of the oppressed were not in their hands, but the hands of fate. The author does a fine job of expressing this through the use of concrete images. He depicts the life of a boy whose life was planned out before he was born and in retaliation he kills. I feel the author is letting the people of this so-called “free country” know that our hate kills more than the hands of a murderer.