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The Hypocrisy of Justice
An important idea that emerges from Wright’s treatment of racism is the terrible inequity of the American criminal justice system of Wright’s time. Drawing inspiration from actual court cases of the 1930s—especially the 1938–39 case of Robert Nixon, a young black man charged with murdering a white woman during a robbery—Wright portrays the American judiciary as an ineffectual pawn caught between the lurid interests of the media and the driving ambition of politicians. The outcome of Bigger’s case is decided before it ever goes to court: in the vicious cycle of racism, a black man who kills a white woman is guilty regardless of the factual circumstances of the killing.
It is important, of course, that Bigger is indeed guilty of Mary’s murder, as well as Bessie’s. Nonetheless, the justice system still fails him, as he receives neither a fair trial nor an opportunity to defend himself. With the newspapers presenting him as a murderous animal and Buckley using the case to further his own political career, anything said in Bigger’s defense falls on deaf ears. Even Max’s impassioned defense is largely a wasted effort. The motto of the American justice system is “equal justice under law,” but Wright depicts a judiciary so undermined by racial prejudice and corruption that the concept of equality holds little meaning.
Influence of Communism on Native Son
Wright was affiliated with the Communist Party of the United States both prior to and following his publishing of NativeSon. The presence of communist ideas in Native Son is evident as Wright draws a parallel between the Scottsboroboys case and Bigger Thomas’s case. There is a parallel between the court scene in Native Son in which Max calls the”hate and impatience” of “the mob congregated upon the streets beyond the window” (Wright 386) and the “mob whosurrounded the Scottsboro jail with rope and kerosene” after the Scottsboro boys’ initial conviction. (Maxwell 132)
Critics attacked Max’s final speech in the courtroom, claiming that it was an irrelevant elaboration on Wright’s own communist beliefs and unrelated to Bigger’s case.
There are many different interpretations concerning the group that was the intended target of Max’s speech. James Baldwin, a renowned critic of Wright, presented his own interpretation of Max’s final speech in his Notes by a Native Son. Baldwin says that Max’s speech is “…addressed to those among us of good will and it seems to say that, though there are whites and blacks among us who hate each other, we will not; there are those who are betrayed by greed,by guilt, by blood, by blood lust, but not we; we will set our faces against them and join hands and walk together into that dazzling future when there will be no white or black” (Baldwin, p. 47). However, other critics such as Siegel have argued that the original text in Native Son does not imply “the dazzling future when there will be no white or black”.
Thus, the argument that Max’s final speech is a Communist promotion is not supported by the texts in the novel(Kinnamon, p. 96). Max referred to Bigger as a part of the working class in his closing statement. Furthermore, in 1938, Wright also advocated the image of African Americans as members of the working class in his article in the New York Amsterdam News, stating: “I have found in the Negro worker the real symbol of the working class in America.” (Foley, p. 190) Thus, Wright’s depiction of and belief in the figure of African-American workers and his depiction of
Bigger Thomas as a worker showed evidence of communistic influence on Native Son.
Fate and Free Will
Native Son suggests that we are only partially in control of or responsible for our own actions. In part, the environment in which we are raised creates certain knee-jerk reactions.
Fear is the dominant emotion that the novel’s protagonist Bigger feels. Fear results from the lack of power to control one’s own situation. The protagonist of Native Son is especially fearful.
Everything Bigger does in Native Son has a relationship to the color of his skin. Why? Because whites control the labor, legal, religious, educational, and social institutions that dictate where an individual belongs in the society.
The world in Native Son is divided between those who have power (white people) and those who do not (black people). Power is intimately connected to race. However, it is also connected to wealth.
Next to fear, shame is the emotion that the protagonist of Native Son feels most frequently. Shame is associated with his family’s poverty, the color of his skin, his own powerlessness.
This novel asks who is to blame for criminality—the criminal or the society that the criminal lives in? Native Son suggests that the society creates the criminal.
Though Bigger has a mother and two siblings, he believes he’s alone in the world for most of Native Son. It takes him being in jail and learning that his infamy has narrowed his little sister’s.
Religion provides comfort for some of the characters in the book, but the protagonist comes to believe that religion contributes to the exploitation of black people by making them satisfied with their situation
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