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Good novel of the black experience and injustice.
“…she was dead; she was white; she was a woman; he had killed her; he was black; he might get caught; he did not want to be caught; if he were they would kill him.”
Bigger Thomas - a black man trapped in a white man's world. Angry, for so many reasons, and scared, for many of those same reasons. When those emotions collide, and he acts out, his world collapses. And it's not just Bigger who suffers. The wide social implications of his actions, steeped in racism, effect other Black members of his community and, of course, his family. This book delves deeply into the reasons why Bigger does what he does, and why the world in which he lives in is partly, if not mostly, responsible. It is as important a book to read now as it was when it was first written. If not more so...
“How on earth are you going to change men’s hearts when the newspapers are fanning hate into them every day?” Jan asked. A question that still remains unanswered today.
Published in 1940, this book provides social commentary on race relations in the US. Protagonist Bigger Thomas commits a crime, though he never intended for it to happen. The story relates what happens in the aftermath. I am not a lawyer, but I am pretty sure what is spoken at the trial would not be allowed in present day (though I have no idea what would have been permitted in 1940). Nevertheless, the author is trying to make a point, and he makes it well. Many of these racial issues are (sadly) still relevant. I listened to the audio book. Peter Francis James does an amazing job with the voice acting – the distinct voices, inflection, and clarity are simply outstanding! I can see why this book is considered a classic.
Summary: The story of Bigger Thomas, whose unpremeditated murder of Mary Dalton and second murder covering up the first, fires rage and fear in Chicago, and in a strange way gives meaning to a young man who felt himself imprisoned in Chicago’s Black Belt.
This is an uncomfortable book to read from the moment Bigger Thomas wakes up until the last pages. It is uncomfortable to view the rat-infested tenement room a family of four share, where Bigger’s first act is to kill a giant rat with a pan.
It is uncomfortable to hear Bigger’s mother nag him about going to the job set up by the relief program. He already has a record for theft, some of which he’s involved his girlfriend Bessie in.
It’s uncomfortable to hear him plot to rob a white jeweler with his three friends. Then when one doesn’t show up on time, he nearly slits his throat in anger.
It’s uncomfortable to go to the Daltons and be treated so well by the family and other household staff. Mr. Dalton has an interest in the companies operating the tenement housing Bigger lives in, confining Blacks to one area of south Chicago known as the Black Belt. He also gives lots of money to charities for the uplift of Blacks and employs people recommended by the relief agency who sent Bigger–an uncomfortable tension of interests that emerges as the story unfolds.
It’s uncomfortable to see Bigger on his first chauffeuring job, supposedly taking Mary Dalton, the Dalton’s only daughter to a lecture, but in reality to a rendezvous with a Communist lover, Jan. We sense Bigger’s discomfort as he takes them to a south side restaurant to eat “his kind of food,” and invited to socialize with them while proselytized into the Communist cause. We sense his discomfort as Jan drives with all of them in the front seat, then as they drink while he drives.
It’s uncomfortable to see Bigger having to help the drunken Mary into the house, and up to her room, getting her to bed, only to have her blind mother come in to this incriminating scene. We sense his discomfort as he tries to silence her so her mother won’t discover his presence and think Mary asleep in a drunken stupor, and when Mrs. Dalton leaves, to find he has asphyxiated her and she is dead.
It’s uncomfortable to witness Bigger’s desperation which leads him to stuff her in the trunk she’s taking to Detroit, to haul it to the basement and stuff her body into the coal furnace, hacking off her head so it would all fit, and then feeding the fire but fearing to remove the ashes for what he might find.
It’s uncomfortable as Mary’s disappearance becomes known to watch Bigger deflect suspicions toward Jan while involving his girlfriend in a ransom plot, ultimately telling her what he’s done, and then as Mary’s bones are found in the furnace ashes, fleeing with Bessie to an abandoned building where he has sex with her then kills her with a brick and throws her down an airshaft, where she did not immediately die.
It’s uncomfortable to see the police cordon close around him, then the final futile efforts to elude capture. It’s uncomfortable to hear the racist vitriol, of crowds who would lynch him and a prosecutor who charges him with rape as well as murder.
It’s uncomfortable to hear him tell his communist attorney, Mr. Max, how, for a brief moment, when he killed, he felt his most free and alive, how in these moments, he found meaning, a momentary escape from the destiny to which his birth and race, in his own mind, had imprisoned him.
His relationship with his attorney, who made an impassioned plea before the court for his life, is the one shining moment. Someone who asked him questions, and listened, and treated him as a man. No one understands more of his life than this man. But he is not a confessor. While Bigger tells the truth of what he had done, there was no remorse, no repentance.
We want to argue that Bigger could have made different choices. Yet the sense is of a human being trapped–in a tenement, into reliance on white charity, in an awkward social situation with two people with no clue who “mean well,” in Mary Dalton’s bedroom where no good explanation could be made for his presence. We’re rightly horrified by the murders, but also at the logic by which Bigger finds meaning in them.
We’re left uncomfortable with social structures that the execution of this young killer will not change. We’re left uncomfortable with the thought of how many other Biggers lurk in such structures–also wanting to do things with their lives, also questing for meaning, perhaps in distorted ways that will end badly for them and others. And this is as it should be. A minister friend of mine once remarked that he believed the gospel not only offered comfort to the disturbed but also disturbed the comfortable. This book does the latter. Don’t read it if you want to remain in comfort.
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Richard Wright: Early Works and Later Works [2 volume set] di Richard Wright (indirettamente)
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Wikipedia in inglese (4)
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, Richard Wright's novel is just as powerful today as when it was written -- in its reflection of poverty and hopelessness, and what it means to be black in America.
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Sistema Decimale Melvil (DDC)813.52 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1900-1944
Diventa un autore di LibraryThing.
Una edizione di quest'opera è stata pubblicata da Recorded Books.
Introduction : Caryl Phillips (2000)
format: 464-page paperback
acquired: February 2022 read: Feb 20 – Mar 11 time reading: 15:17, 2.0 mpp
genre/style: classic novel theme: Richard Wright
locations: 1930’s Chicago
about the author: American author born on a Mississippi plantation, 1908-1960
A dark classic look at American racism in fiction. Richard Wright wrote for purpose. He was determined force the reader's eye coldly on the hard fact of racism. No cushion of sympathy, or pity, he draws the reader in so we can't look away, holds us by force of the novel, looking wide-eyed and horrified.
The first 200 pages of this novel were as intense as anything I have ever read. But it wasn't fun, it was awful, painful, yet still compelling. This is his masterpiece. Bigger Thomas, like the strongest of Shakespeare's villains, is all calculation and doomed for lack of consequential foresight. We're in a tragedy, but our villain is not part of noble house maneuvering for power, he is confined in all space, physical and mental, by white American racism. He acts within and against these confines, and when he crosses a line, he thinks only how to clean it up and get away. And it's here, Fargo-like, or Parasite-like, to name a couple movies, Wright leaves us. Shocked, stunned, trapped strangely in slow motion, horrified.
Mixing a few books at a time, I put the book down there (exhausted). When I picked it back up, the worst of the intense horror was past, but the book still had another 200 awkward pages of consequences, and contemplation, mentally search for ways to come to terms, and, even more awkwardly, toying with communist concepts. Bigger enters the legal system defended, without cost, by a Jewish American communist.
There is a nothing perfect in this book. It goes from evocative to uncomfortably horrific to oddly awkward. It doesn't fail. I was able to coast through these last 200 pages, and think about all that had happened, but it's a strange way to wrap this up.
Wright wanted to create a look at the human cost of racism without pity - and it certainly has done something of that sort. Five yucky stars for those first uncomfortable 200 pages, but less for the work overall.
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