Native Son - Bigger versus the Daltons

Essay by DufresneHigh School, 10th gradeA, August 2009

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In the book Native Son by Richard Wright, the protagonist, Bigger Thomas, accidentally killed the daughter of the family he obtained a new job with, Mary Dalton. Bigger committed one of the most grievous crimes known to man; he killed another human being. However, Bigger should not be punished because the killing was an accident, because it was driven by intense fear, and because convicting him would outrage the black community.

First, Bigger unintentionally killed Mary; it was by no means a murder. Bigger was trying to prevent Mary from making sudden noises that would alert her parents to her state of intoxication. He simply did not realize his strength and suffocated her. This manslaughter does not merit punishment. This notion is supported by the 1913 case, Johnson vs. Cutnell. Ben Johnson accidentally shot Davis Cutnell while trying to stop a robbery. Johnson was not punished and walked away free.

Bigger’s case is extremely similar to Johnson’s because if Mary was not drunk, Bigger would not have been in her room, helping her go to bed. Bigger does not deserve a punishment for killing Mary.

In conjunction with the killing being an accident, it was driven by fear. Bigger, like many contemporary black men, was afraid of white people. He was terrified of persecution from them, and he was terrified of the consequences resulting from interracial events. In fact, Bigger was so stricken with fear of consequences, he took the risk of killing Mary and even cremated her corpse after her death. He thought that this was preferable to being caught in Mary’s room with her drunk; he would have been accused of raping a white woman and would have been lynched as a result. Without white persecution, Bigger would not have felt fear and pressure in this situation and would have not killed Mary. Bigger should definitely not receive punishment for killing Mary because of this fear.

Finally, the sentencing of Bigger Thomas would extremely outrage the black community. By this point in American history, African-Americans no longer wanted to put up with racial injustices. If Bigger Thomas were to be punished for this crime, an extreme amount of blacks would riot in response. A modern example of this would be the Los Angeles riots of 1992. Four police officers, for seemingly no reason, attacked a black man, Rodney King, and senselessly beat him. The four officers were acquitted from charges, causing a week of deadly riots in Los Angeles. Similarly, punishing Bigger for killing Mary would be perceived as racial profiling and would spark riots. Because of the black community’s potential outrage, Bigger should not be punished.

One could open their Bible or Torah and read the Ten Commandments; that person would read the sentence, “Thou shalt not murder.” It does not say that killing is illegal, as many Christians have done in antiquity – only murder. Bigger Thomas did not murder and did not sin; he merely and mistakenly killed Mary while trying to keep both him and Mary out of trouble. Because of the killing being an accident, Bigger’s extreme apprehension, and African-American outrage, Bigger Thomas has absolutely no reason to be convicted of murder and should walk away without a single punishment.

Works CitedWright, Richard A. Native Son. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008. Print.