The Portrayal Of Oppression In Native Son
The behavior expressed in Richard Wright’s Native Son provides us with a basis to realize our own faults in today’s society. The rampant prejudice within the novel’s society led to the mental and emotional shifting within the black community, seen specifically in Bigger Thomas. The racist precedents set in the past determine our actions today, and if anything, Native Son was an opportunity to realize that it’s time to change those precedents. Fear of change and fear of persecution cause acts of desperation within a system of oppression. External justification from historical, systematic hate generates that oppression and injustice throughout society.
Oppression fundamentally stems from the human urge for control and power. We want to keep the power we hold over other people, and will do anything we can to control what we can. This constant battle to see who comes out on top is what gives entire communities the mindset that they are fundamentally superior, because they are the ones who have been winning the battle for centuries. The oppressive systems in place in our society today come from the systematic dehumanization that this country was built upon, and it stays in place because of our unwillingness to see beyond our own dilemmas. In Native Son, the Chicago described is one with a blatant imbalance of power between the white and black communities, notably mentioned in the environment as a physical separation of the two communities. This separation leads to each community having serious misconceptions about the other, altering the mindset of each because of centuries of precedent, evidential in the text, “Why did he and his folks have to live like this? What had they ever done? Perhaps they had not done anything. Maybe they had to live this way precisely because none of them in all their lives had ever done anything, right or wrong, that mattered much. ” (Wright 105). This mindset that Bigger has is detrimental to his entire community, as well as himself. He truly believes that all of the black people within Chicago, including his own family, deserves to live in conditions harmful to their health. This separation within communities is dangerous to the mental and emotional state of those being harmed by the separation.
Bigger Thomas has been mentally and emotionally shaped by the environment around him, clearly seen in lines such as, “He stood up in the middle of the cell floor and tried to see himself in relation to other men, a thing he had always feared to try to do, so deeply stained was his own mind with the hate of others for him. ” (Wright 361). Bigger has been so fundamentally molded by the conditions that he grew up in that he truly believes he is worth less than the white people in his city. “He had no right to feel that, no right to forget that he was to die, that he was black, a murderer; he had no right to forget that, not even for a second. Yet he had. ” (Wright 360). These quotes clearly show that the hate he has been given, the hate that has shaped him, has ingrained itself so deeply in his mind that he now believes that he is not deserving of equal treatment. Bigger’s fear of persecution and hate lead him to commit acts he may not have committed otherwise, such as the murder of Mary Dalton. This systematic oppression that he has grown up in has critically shifted his view on the world and his view on himself.
Nearly every act within Native Son was an act of desperation, subconsciously caused by the standardized injustices within this society. From Bigger to the Daltons, every choice was indicative of a deeper meaning – a desperate desire to prove themselves. The imbalance of power within this Chicago community was the cause of this desperation, leading the characters to believe that they either had to protect their power or protect themselves from persecution and hate. Specifically, Bigger killing Mary Dalton was his chance to prove his worth in some way or another – to prove that he could leave a mark on the white community that had so wrongfully oppressed him, seen in the passage, “His crime seemed natural; he felt that all of his life had been leading to something like this… There was in him a kind of terrified pride… It was as though he had an obscure but deep debt to fulfil to himself in accepting the deed. ” (Wright 106). Bigger felt as if his whole life, the life in which he had been treated as nothing other than inferior, had been leading to a course of action that would deeply affect the white community. On the other side of the spectrum, the white community was so desperate to see Bigger put to death for this murder, that they blinded themselves to the underlying issue within their society, seen in the passage, “’Kill ‘im!’ ‘Lynch ‘im!’” (Wright 270). In this passage, the angry white mob is rooting for the police to kill Bigger on the spot, without considering their own blind hate and the environmental aspects that led Bigger to murder. Both the white and the black communities have a fear of the other, leading to the series of desperate acts that readers can see throughout the novel.
The patterns found within Native Son are applicable to the world we live in today, and still decidedly present. The world around us supports a system of oppression designed so that those without power feel helpless. In order to tear down this oppressive societal structure, we have to be willing to study the underlying issues, and realize the faults within ourselves. The mindset of different communities within our world have been established by centuries of precedent, just as both the white and black communities in Bigger’s world are defined by misguided notions of hate for the other. This human instinct to desire power is what ultimately causes our own downfall. Bigger’s desire to be seen as an individual and to leave his mark on the white community is what lead to the murder of Mary Dalton, and Bigger’s death sentence. To break the cycle of this struggle for power over one another, we have to be self-aware of our actions and the underlying implications of those actions. We should not strive to be like that “white looming mountain of hate,” (Wright 361), or that “sea of white faces… that ocean of boiling hate,” (Wright 265). We should strive to have our own individual thoughts instead of following the outdated precedents set for us in the past, urging us to become a faceless mass of blind anger. We should realize our own individuality, just as Bigger realized his.
Systems of oppression are caused by those in power staying in power because of past precedents, which generates an altered mindset in both parties affected, causing a series of injustices throughout society. The lessons recognized when Native Son was published are still lessons that are applicable today. We face the same urges of blind hate and blind accusations today as they did back then, it’s simply not as widely recognized because we are no longer physically segregated as a society. There is no doubt in my mind that Richard Wright accomplished the goal he set out to achieve: to prompt self-reflection in all members of his audience. As much as Bigger is a product of his society, we are a product of ours. Without self-realization of the implications of our actions and words, history will repeat itself, and it will be to the detriment of all.