Thursday, March 1, 1990

Richard Wright's Native Son published 50 years ago today

First posted 6/9/2020; updated 7/6/2020.

Native Son

Richard Wright

First Publication: March 1, 1940

Category: social novel

Sales: ?


About the Book:

“Among the first widely successful novels by an African American, Native Son boldly described a racist society that was unfamiliar to most Americans.” LC “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.” AZ As literary critic Irving Howe said in his 1963 essay ‘Black Boys and Native Sons,’ ‘The day Native Son appeared, American culture was changed forever…It made impossible a repetition of the old lies.’” LC

Bigger Thomas is a 20-year-old “African American youth living in utter poverty in a poor area on Chicago’s South Side in the 1930s.” WKNative 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.” AZ “While not apologizing for Bigger’s crimes, Wright portrays a systemic inevitability behind them. Bigger’s lawyer, Boris Max, makes the case that there is no escape from this destiny for his client or any other black American since they are the necessary product of the society that formed them and told them since birth who exactly they were supposed to be.” WK

“‘No American Negro exists,’ James Baldwin once wrote, ‘who does not have his private Bigger Thomas living in his skull.’ Frantz Fanon discusses the feeling in his 1952 essay, L'expérience vécue du noir (The Fact of Blackness). ‘In the end,’ writes Fanon, ‘Bigger Thomas acts. To put an end to his tension, he acts, he responds to the world’s anticipation.’ The book was a successful and groundbreaking best seller. However, it was also criticized by Baldwin and others as ultimately advancing Bigger as a stereotype, not a real character.” WK

Resources and Related Links:

In July 2018, I became the organizer of the Classic Novels Book Club. Check out the Book Club tab here or Meetup for more information. This is our book for August 2020.

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