Elements Of Irony In Native Son

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade April 2001

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Elements of Irony in Native Son Native Son paints a disturbing, harsh picture of life within the "Black Belt" of Chicago in the 1940s. Wright uses irony; sometimes subtly and at other times obviously to shape the view of the reader and as a foreshadowing mechanism. From our initial scene to Bigger's death, the technique of irony employed by Wright is effective, and devastating.

Our initial symbol which foreshadows the fate of our protagonist is the "huge black rat" (5). The rat represents the feelings which Wright explores within Bigger. The rat is killed right away, before it really has a chance, yet it is able to attack Bigger before it is destroyed. By attacking instead of fleeing, the rat is caught and destroyed, much like Bigger as the novel progresses. Much like the rat, Bigger teeters between the predatory (the initial response to the rat) and the hunted (the rat as killed by Bigger).

The fact that the rat is destroyed by Bigger makes this scene even more ironic.

The idea of blindness permeates the novel in several ways. We can see the psychological and emotional blindness of Bigger, the blindness to reality by the hyper-religious Ma, and the blindness to the real role and ideals of the Communist party by both Jan and Mary. Perhaps the best use of irony is the physical blindness of Mrs. Dalton. Mrs. Dalton is the epitome of blind; she has very sensitive senses (she notices the smell of alcohol in Mary's room, saying: "You're dead drunk! You stink with whiskey!" (86)) but she is unable to see Bigger killing her daughter. Her extra sensitive hearing and lack of sight give Bigger the reason and opportunity to smother Mary. Yet, the true irony falls into the situation surrounding Mr. and Mrs. Dalton's participation...