Richard Wright's "Native Son" is a social protest novel reflecting his absolute horror at the condition of the relations between the black and white societies in America. Wright emphasizes that the rage felt by all black Americans is the direct result of white racism. Bigger Thomas is a product of this society, and is driven to hostile actions as a result of his rage. The central theme of this novel is one of violence. The three components developing this theme are elements of setting, imagery, and symbolism.
One important element in developing Wright's theme of violence is the setting. This novel takes place in Chicago, where there is a vast difference between the lives of the black and the white society. Robert Bone emphasizes that we are depicted as a "nation divided against itself" where there is "hatred and resentment" of the black population (484). The hostility felt by the African Americans is a direct result of the oppression from the white society. Seodial Deena claims that the black world is like a "black hell", while the white world is like a "bright heaven" (137). Bigger and his family must live in a "tiny" single room apartment which is overrun with rats (4). Robert Bone states that the Thomas family's living conditions are "grossly dehumanizing" because their home "denies them space and privacy" (31). There is a great difference between the living conditions of blacks and whites in the city of Chicago. Wright reveals the white neighborhood as a "cold and distant world" with "white secrets carefully guarded" (44). Thus, the racial conflicts in Chicago play a very important role in developing Wright's theme of violence.
The second aspect of the setting which attributes to the violent theme is the isolation of Bigger Thomas. Deena explains that Bigger is a frustrated individual who is forced to live in a violent place full of whites who fail to recognize his presence and consider him inferior (44). Bigger feels "transparent" when he is in the presence of the whites (58). Seodial Deena declares that Bigger longs to be able to enter this "white world" (135). Bigger declares that he feels as if he is "on the outside of the world peeping in through a knot-hole in a fence" (20). Bigger's statement proves he feels like an outsider to the real world, and something is preventing him from reaching his desires. The setting of this novel makes a major contribution to Wright's theme of violence.
The imagery in Native Son is a very important feature in creating the theme of violence. Wright uses animal imagery in this novel to imply a great deal of violence. Robert Butler theorizes that "black people, like the rat, are cornered, for they are forced to live in a teeming ghetto" (33). In the first scene, Bigger is ordered by his mother to kill the "huge black rat" which is scuttling around the apartment (9). Butler asserts that Wright "associates the situation of the rat" with Bigger's family (31). Butler reveals that the Thomas family is like the rat, for they are confined to their small apartment that has a "door leading only into another trap, the ghetto." (32). Bigger is compared to the rat when he destroys it with "clenched teeth" (9), and is forced into "violent action" (8). Robert Felgar agrees that Bigger "will be a black rat in the white man's world" who is searching "desperately for a hole to crawl into" (63). After killing Mary and running from the police, he tells his girlfriend Bessie that hiding in the old abandoned houses will be like "hiding in a jungle" (228). Felgar believes that the Jungle is the "kingdom of the beast", and the beast is the mass of whites who want to destroy him (64). Felgar refutes that violence is "the law of the jungle", and in order to survive you must be a "cunning and fierce animal" that must "kill before one is killed" (66). Therefore, animal imagery plays a very significant role in developing the theme of violence.
The image of Bigger's killing of Mary contributes greatly...
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