"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