Allusions and references in other works (1)
Native Son has been filmed twice; once in 1951 and again in 1986. The first version was made in Argentina. Wright, aged 42, played the protagonist despite being twice the age of 20-year-old Bigger Thomas. The film was not well received, with Wright’s performance being a particular target of critics.
Native Son is mentioned in a flashback in the film American History X (1998), when Derek’s father criticizes Derek’s teacher for including lessons on African-American literature and affirmative action.
An allusion to the story is presented in part 1 of The Second Renaissance (2003), a short anime film from The Animatrix collection. In this film, a domestic robot named “B1-66ER” is placed on trial for murder. The name is created using Leet Speak.
In the motion picture The Help (2011), the main character (played by Emma Stone) is seen in an oblique camera angle to have a copy of Native Son on her bookshelf.
Influence on Wright by Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Native Son contains several allusions to other works that were significant during Wright’s time. One of the major works that influenced Native Son was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Published in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not only the best-selling novel of the century but also played a major role in the abolitionist movement.
Wright’s Native Son was published in 1940 and contains similarities to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Native Son can be interpreted as an illustration of the harsh reality of racial injustice in the United States. James Baldwin, writing in the Partisan Review, boldly linked the two novels. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin as well as in Native Son, racial injustice is a “pre-ordained pattern set upon the living reality”.There is little that the characters can do to escape racial discrimination. Both of these novels are a form of social protest and seek to disprove the idea that society neatly analyzes and treats race. In both of these works, African Americans emerge confused, dishonest, and panicked as they are trapped and immobilized as prisoners within the American dream.
Another book that Wright published was the collection of short stories Uncle Tom’s Children (1938), whose title and content suggest the inspiration Stowe’s work provided Wright in his own books. Both Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Uncle Tom’s Children exploit the term “Uncle Tom”, attacking an African American who seems to act in a subservient manner toward white people. However, while these two titles are extremely similar and contain similar themes, Wright’s Native Son can also be considered reactionary against Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Bigger Thomas is the antithesis of Uncle Tom. Bigger is fearful of and angry toward white society. He also lacks the religious background and Christian faith that Uncle Tom possessed. This contrast between the characters of Bigger Thomas and Uncle Tom may be Wright’s attempt to show the contemporary racial conflicts that persisted long after the publishing of Stowe’s novel in 1852
In Cecil Brown’s novel The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger (1969), the protagonist, George Washington, states that he is not fearful, that he is not a “Bigger Thomas”.
Native Son is mentioned in Edward Bunker’s novel Little Boy Blue (1981) as being read while in solitary confinement by the main character, Alex Hammond, who is said to be greatly fascinated by it.
A large section of Percival Everett’s Erasure (1999) contains a parody of Native Son, entitled “Fuck”.
A line from the trial speech by Bigger Thomas’ lawyer, Boris Max, is woven into the plot of The Penultimate Peril (2005), a book by Lemony Snicket. “Richard Wright, an American novelist of the realist school, asks a famous unfathomable question…. ‘Who knows when some slight shock,’ he asks, ‘disturbing the delicate balance between social order and thirsty aspiration, shall send the skyscrapers in our cities toppling?’ .. So when Mr. Wright asks his question, he might be wondering if a small event, such as a stone dropping into a pond, can cause ripples in the system of the world, and tremble the things that people want, until all this rippling and trembling brings down something enormous,…”
In Ron Suskind’s 1998 book, A Hope in the Unseen, Native Son is referenced during a discussion the main character takes part in at Brown University.
Bigger Thomas is mentioned in one of the lyrical hooks of “The Ritual” in Saul Williams’ The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust! (2007).
The U2 song “Vertigo” was called “Native Son” by the band during the recording sessions for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004). The song was later released in the collections Unreleased & Rare (2004) and U2: Medium, Rare & Remastered (2009).
On the HBO series Brave New Voices, during the 2008 finals, the Chicago team performed a poem called “Lost Count: A Love Story”. This poem addresses the youth on youth murder in Chicago and includes the phrase: “Being brown in Bigger Thomas’ town”.
In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, “Far Beyond the Stars” (1998), Benny Russell cites Native Son as an example of a significant work of African-American literature.
It was adapted for the stage by Wright and Paul Green, with some conflict between the authors affecting the project.The initial production, directed by Orson Welles and with Canada Lee as Bigger opened at the St. James Theatre on March 24, 1941.
The book was newly adapted and directed again by Kent Gash (in conjunction with the Paul Green Foundation) for Intiman Theatre in Seattle, Washington, in 2006. The production, featuring Ato Essandoh as Bigger Thomas, was a more literal translation of the book than the 1941 version and was a critical success.
In 2014, a stage adaptation by Nambi Kelly played the Court Theatre in Chicago . Acknowledgement
When authors refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.
Literature, Philosophy, and Mythology
The Bible: Genesis 1 (3.71); Genesis 2 (3.74-75); “the word became flesh,” from John 1:14-18 (3.99)
Adolf Hitler (2.251)
Benito Mussolini (2.251)
Japan colonizing China (2.251)
Charles D. Tillman: “Life’s Railway to Heaven” (1.133)
“Lord, I want to be a Christian” – an American folk hymn (1.522)
Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin: “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” (1.547)
Jack Johnson – the first black Heavyweight Champion of the World (1.924)
Joe Louis – a black man and one of the greatest boxers that ever lived (1.924)
Jack Dempsey – extremely popular white boxer (1.924)
Henry Armstrong – a black man and world boxing champion (1.924)
Ginger Rogers – actress and singer, well known for her dancing with Fred Astaire (1.924)
Jean Harlow – actress known as the “Blonde Bombshell” and the “Platinum Blonde” (1.924)
Janet Gaynor – the first winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1928 (1.924)
Charles D. Tillman: “Understand it Bye and Bye” (1.1009-1012)
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” – a hymn (1.1214)
“Steal away to Jesus” – a hymn (2.2199)