1.16.2012

Native Son by Richard Wright


"He felt that there was something missing, some road which, if he had once found it, would have led him to a sure and quiet knowledge."

Native Son is one of those classics that I was always curious about but never had to read in school. This made it a first-time read for me and I was blown away. The back of this book states this novel is "an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and what is means to be black in America." That description is spot it. This book turned out to be one of the most powerful novels I have ever read.

Native Son follows Bigger Thomas, a young black man who has grown up in poverty in inner-city Chicago during the 1930's. Bigger is charged with the rape and murder of a white woman and we follow his story of remorse and guilt, fear and anger. The novel is split into three parts: Fear, Flight and Fate. Among other themes, Wright explores racial inequality, the meaning of freedom, racial divide in America, and the uncontrollable fate of inner-city black people after they were guaranteed "freedom". Bigger has felt as though he has been held down his whole life, restricted from the opportunities that were given to white people. His fear of white people eventually manifests itself as an uncontrollable anger, pushing him to ignore what is right and wrong.
He would have gladly admitted his guilt if he had thought that in doing so he could have also given in the same breath a sense of the deep, choking hate that had been his life, a hate that he had not wanted to have, but could not help having. How could he do that? The impulsion to try and tell was as deep as had been the urge to kill.
Not only is this an explicit and heart-wrenching account of the perils of the black man in 1930's America (and in some cases, they story is also relevant today), but it is truly a page-turner. Despite the brutal and affecting details, I was completely engrossed in this book. My heart went out to Bigger and the ways in which he was discriminated in a judicial system that was against him from the start. I can only imagine the controversy this book stirred up when it was first released in 1940. If you pick it up, it just might change the way you look at those less fortunate than you. Highly recommended.

I read this for the classics challenge, fulfilling a 20th century classic.

Publisher: Herper Perennial, 1940

20 comments:

  1. I too haven't read this, but want to -- especially after your review! It sounds marvelous -- a gut-punch of a read (which I like). Thanks for the review and for putting this back on my radar!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gut-punch is right! It's also quite amazing.

      Delete
  2. This has been on my TBR list for awhile...ever since reading his fantastic Black Boy I've wanted to read more Wright. Thank for this great review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really want to read Black Boy after reading this. I heard that it's a semi-autobiography.

      Delete
  3. Glad to see you liked this - agreed, that it's one of the more page-turning, but emotional-gut-punching "classics." It's one of my favorites, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Greg, I can't believe I didn't read it sooner. Have you Black Boy or anything else by Wright?

      Delete
  4. Wow, this does sound powerful. I definitely would like to read it.. I've been interested in reading his other book, Black Boy, though so I think I'll read that one first.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard good things about that one as well.

      Delete
  5. I've not heard of this, but am trying to read more American literature rather than just English lit, so it sounds perfect for me right now. The issues in it are certainly interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Native Son is considered an American classic, so I don't think you could go wrong if you are trying to expand your American lit diet.

      Delete
  6. This sounds powerful and, as Audra and Greg both said, a gut-punch of a read. I'm a bit intimidated to read it but I think it has to go on my TBR.
    Also, very appropriate posting data, coincidence or not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a complete coincidence that it worked out that way, but I'm kind of happy that it did.

      Delete
  7. This sounds really interesting. I have been meaning to read more books by POC and I think this might be one of my first choices.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've been trying to read more POC authors too!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I had no doubt you would like this book. Richard Wright is one of my favorite authors because of this one and Black Boy. Great review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I NEED TO READ BLACK BOY! Is it equally as awesome as Native Son?

      Delete
  10. Huh! That is pretty intriguing. Me likes tales of inner city and struggle. Thanks Brenna, I'm putting this on the radar.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I had to read this in high school, and remember being slightly intrigued and hugely appalled...which means I'll likely love it upon re-reading it. I actually bought an old copy of it last year and have been wanting to get around to it. Your review may help me get there a little quicker!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have been curious about this book for a long long time, but always felt a little intimidated by it. I think I read an excerpt of either this or Black Boy when in school, and that is was intrigued me. You've sold me on it, and I will definitely get myself a copy of this to read!

    ReplyDelete