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Richard Wright’s Native SonRichard Wright’s novel, Native Son, stirred up a real controversy by shocking the sensibilities of both black and white America. The protagonist, Bigger Thomas, is from the lowest ring of society, and Wright does not blend him with any of the romantic elements common to literary heroes. Bigger is what one expects him to be because of the social conditions in which he lives: he is sullen, frightened, violent, hateful, and resentful. He is the product of the condemnation the “white” society has brought upon him. He is a “native son.”

Native Son opens with an act of violence. The alarm clock abruptly awakens Bigger and his family to their miserable reality–a rat-infested, one bedroom apartment in the urban ghetto of Chicago. Bigger’s battle with the rat reveals his capacity for brutality. He crushes the rat’s head after he has killed it with a skillet. Bigger represents a persuasive racial stereotype of black men–violent, criminal, and cowardly. The powerful, racist white majority considers his personality a “natural” characteristic of his race. However, Wright shows how Bigger’s consciousness is in fact shaped by his environment. Bigger was not born a violent criminal, but became one in the unforgiving world of racism and poverty in American society.

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Bigger’s entire existence is a prison. His crowded, rat-infested apartment is only one of his “prison cells.” He is imprisoned in the urban ghetto by racist rental policies. His own consci…

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