Bigger Thomas' violent acts gave him a sense of freedom and identitySet in the 1930's, the portrayal of poverty and feelings of helplessness experienced by people in the inner city is as meaningful today as when it was written.Native Son is the story of Bigger Thomas, a black youth whose tragic life was drawn from Richard Wright's own experiences and memories of the Chicago ghetto. Although segregated, Wright held that the noisy crowded physical aspect of the urban environment, with its stimulating sense of power, fulfillment, and possible achievement brought forth a more obstreperous reaction than in the South. Vivid, unforgettable and heartbreaking, Wright's masterpiece forces us to witness the inhumanity of our society.The power and compassion of James Earl Jones' performance of Native Son sears this classic work into our memories forever.Richard Wright (1908-1960) left Memphis at 19 to live in Chicago where he became a writer. He grew to be considered not only the leading black author in the United States, but also a major heir of the naturalistic tradition. Wright spent his last years in Paris, where he died in 1960. James Earl Jones is one of this country's greatest artistic resources, as his acclaimed performances on stage, screen and television have proved. He has starred in such films as Dr. Strangelove, The Great White Hope, The Man, Cry the Beloved Country, and A Family Thing, and on Broadway in Othello and Fences, for which he won the Tony Award.
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Bigger Thomas is doomed, trapped in a downward spiral that will lead to arrest, prison, or death, driven by despair, frustration, poverty, and incomprehension. As a young black man in the Chicago of the '30s, he has no way out of the walls of poverty and racism that surround him, and after he murders a young white woman in a moment of panic, these walls begin to close in. There is no help for him--not from his hapless family; not from liberal do-gooders or from his well-meaning yet naive friend Jan; certainly not from the police, prosecutors, or judges. Bigger is debased, aggressive, dangerous, and a violent criminal. As such, he has no claim upon our compassion or sympathy. And yet...
A more compelling story than Native Son has not been written in the 20th century by an American writer. That is not to say that Richard Wright created a novel free of flaws, but that he wrote the first novel that successfully told the most painful and unvarnished truth about American social and class relations. As Irving Howe asserted in 1963, "The day Native Son appeared, American culture was changed forever. It made impossible a repetition of the old lies [and] brought out into the open, as no one ever had before, the hatred, fear and violence that have crippled and may yet destroy our culture."
Other books had focused on the experience of growing up black in America--including Wright's own highly successful Uncle Tom's Children, a collection of five stories that focused on the victimization of blacks who transgressed the code of racial segregation. But they suffered from what he saw as a kind of lyrical idealism, setting up sympathetic black characters in oppressive situations and evoking the reader's pity. In Native Son, Wright was aiming at something more. In Bigger, he created a character so damaged by racism and poverty, with dreams so perverted, and with human sensibilities so eroded, that he has no claim on the reader's compassion:
"I didn't want to kill," Bigger shouted. "But what I killed for, I am! It must've been pretty deep in me to make me kill! I must have felt it awful hard to murder.... What I killed for must've been good!" Bigger's voice was full of frenzied anguish. "It must have been good! When a man kills, it's for something... I didn't know I was really alive in this world until I felt things hard enough to kill for 'em. It's the truth..."Wright's genius was that, in preventing us from feeling pity for Bigger, he forced us to confront the hopelessness, misery, and injustice of the society that gave birth to him. --Andrew Himes From the Back Cover:
Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native 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. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, 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.
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