Communism In Native Son
The novel starts off with the main character, Bigger Thomas, waking up to a familiar scene of his very cramped one bedroom house with his four person family. Instantly the scene becomes hectic as a giant rat appears and Bigger is tasked with dealing with it. After the entire charade, Bigger heads out to meet up with his gang. They make a plan to rob a white man, and Bigger splits to go see his job offer to be a chauffeur and successfully takes it up. Not too soon after, Bigger sabotages the robbery out of fear of going against a white man and breaks ties with his gang in an effort to display how tough he is.
Things should be fine for Bigger now as he no longer has to worry about the bad influences of his gang and he has a well paying job, but he manages to ruin it all by accidently strangling Mary, the daughter of his employer, after a night out with her and her communist boyfriend, Jan, when he was put into a similar situation as the rat in the beginning of the book. He tries to hide this by burning her body and blaming it on Jan. Bigger takes it even further by pinning her “kidnapping” on the communist party and writing a ransom letter only for his mistakes to eventually be unearthed in the form of Mary’s bones that he never attended to removing. After running from the law and a shootout, Bigger was caught and put into jail while he awaited his most likely punishment of a death sentence.
The major turning point of the book was when Bigger began talking to Jan’s lawyer. He realized where he went wrong in all his thinking, that Blacks were socially beneath whites. He realised the communist party was fighting for his equality and that he could have another chance to make things right now that he knew better about the divide between races and how communism could help. But alas, his time was cut short and the capitalist system refused to see their errors in producing a murderer and Bigger was put on his death sentence, causing his enlightenment to go on forever dead with him and the system to continue to produce the same mistakes oblivious to their own wrong doings.
In the book, Native Son, Richard Wright contrasts Communistic ideas against the negative connotations of the common people of the time, arguing the system as a force for good and equality; Wright, an educated man, would know better than to follow stereotypes and utilizes Bigger’s parochial views to display the unjustifiable fear he had for Communists to display the fruitless results of people constantly pushing others away due to prejudice towards certain people.
The Marxist theory practically centers around the concept of economics. It is within belief that if it does not “foreground the economic realities of human culture, then it misunderstands human culture,” (Tyson 53). Basically, economic power is the centrifuge of all power; it translates into both political power and social power. This supports education, religion, sciences, maths, government, art and so on (Tyson 54). The two major roles in society are the “Bourgeoisie” and the “Proletariat”: the bourgeoisie are the small percentage of people that control the means of production while the proletariats are the major population who perform manual labor and are most likely exploited (Tyson 54). Communism aims to break that social divide between the two different social classes.
Communism is both a political and economic ideology first introduced by philosophers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Its grounds are based on the fact that they wanted to abolish the social gap Capitalism created which led to the majority of labour workers being exploited while the means to production would be owned by a minority of people. In order to do that, they would remove the concept of private property making everything belong to the public as a whole. Their final concept would ask that everyone contribute to what they can and their needs would be satisfied out-weighing the needs of the public to the needs of a single individual creating a system of equality (Chu et al 1). These ideals would work to prevent the social gap of the few living large and the large living on few making everyone truly equal.
It’s no surprise the man, Richard Wright himself, was part of the Communist party. However, his path down that road was a rather complicated one. “Richard Wright grew into manhood in the afterglow of human slavery. A generation from absolute power, the Whites were determined to restore their traditional prerogatives,” (American Writers 475). His education fell detrimental from the beginning as his grandmother tried to hide him from the world, censoring anything that wasn’t religious (American Writers 474). He was barely ever able to complete an unbroken year of study and it wasn’t until Wright was sixteen that he graduated whatever excuse they called the ninth grade (American Writers 474). Later on in life, Wright joined the Communist Party and maintained his active role for twelve years (American Writers 476). It was during this time that he would beg for books so that he could teach himself and use his position to gain contacts and write for editorials until he was able to master his skill (American Writers 476). Thanks to his well met counters, Wright was able to Publish Native Son in 1940, an instantaneous success. And by those means, Richard Wright transitioned into a better life.
Parallel/Contrast to Bigger
Although Wright eventually ended up better off, his start wasn’t so different from Bigger Thomas’. Both grew up without fathers: Bigger lost his to a riot (Wright 74), Wright’s father just walked out when he was five (American Writers 474). Both had a single mother struggle to raise children: “[Wright’s] mother struggled ineffectively… to raise two growing boys,” (American Writers 474) and it’s fairly obvious that Mrs. Thomas wasn’t very successful raising a proper son either. Both lacked in terms of education as Wright ended in the ninth grade (American Writers 474) while Bigger dropped out around the same time at eighth grade. So what makes them very different. Both were born with similar circumstances. If anything, Wright should have been victim to the same ending as Bigger Thomas, but he wasn’t. So where does everything change? As noted earlier, Richard Wright joined the Communist Party and was able to survive “the anxiety and fear of Chicago by way of a combination of radical politics and his art,” (Yu 40). Bigger was offered to join the communist party but was too uneducated to think for himself. Instead he referred to the propaganda-like material in the news papers he once saw knowing only negative connotations coinciding with Communists (Wright 32).
Bigger Thomas’ life is only the way it is because of the system that molded it. Surroundings have great influence on people and Bigger is no special case. In essence, “Wright depicts the racializing effects of Capitalism through the production and segregation of space in Chicago, which reinforces the divisive strategies of American Capitalism,” (Yu 73). Even the very fact that Bigger and his whole family live in a one bedroom kitchenette is evidence that the system profits from racism (Yu 44). Blacks were not allowed to live in the same neighborhood as whites causing a high density of African Americans to live in only one area. As a result, there would be high demand on those buildings, considering that is all that is available to them, and prices would skyrocket in response. Furthermore, even the workforce is segregated from any higher means of production. Capitalism does a good job at letting “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. ” There are three quintessential ways the lower class are segregated from the means of production: The worker is cut off from deciding how to do his job, the worker is cut off from having a say in what is made, and finally, the worker is cut off from others in his section as a form of competition (Ollman 1). Bigger is subject to this as well as he is put into a dead end job of being a chauffeur where he only takes orders from those above him and executes (Wright 50). Failure to do so would most likely mean that the owners of production would deem him incapable and take away his only form of legitimate sustenance.
In conclusion, “racism is functional to the preservation of capitalism,” (Yu 70). The dominant class exploites the social classing structure to impede workers and divide them from each other (Yu 70). And with racism, oppression is a sure to follow. Consequently, all oppressed groups share the common fact that they are oppressed, meaning they the only equality in the Capitalist system is that all minorities equally share the same negative connotations in one way or another (Yu VI). Considering Communist ideals, Bigger would have most likely had the burdenless option to education as basic needs are provided, and due to the removal of racism, there would be no social oppression to breed ill intent. But alas, “the political commitment that saved Wright from nothingness is not available to Bigger. He is thrown back on himself and what he has become,” (American Writers 483). Bigger is the product of his social and economic surroundings. He is the Native Son.
- American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies. Ed. Leonard Unger. Vol. 4: Isaac Bashevis Singer to Richard Wright. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974. P474-497. Chu, Ruven, et al. “Communism and Computer Ethics. ”
- Communism: History and Background, cs. stanford. edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/communism-computing-china/index. html. Ollman, Bertell. “What Is Marxism? A Bird’s-Eye View. ” DIALECTICAL MARXISM, NYU, www. nyu. edu/projects/ollman/docs/what_is_marxism. php.
- Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: a User-Friendly Guide. 2nd ed. , Routledge, 2006. Wright, Richard. Native Son. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005. Yu, Byung Sun. “America(s) in Early Twentieth Century Ethnic Minority Writing: Younghill Kang and Richard Wright. ” UC Berkeley, 2013. 0
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