- Published: September 6, 2022
- Updated: September 6, 2022
- Language: English
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The Mirror of American Racial Discrimination and Class Conflicts Seen from Richard Wright’s Native Son ? Abstract? Richard Wright’s Native Son is a brand-new page of the Black literature which is one of American “ protest novels”. In this novel, the author uses the writing techniques of realism to reflect the fierce racial and class conflicts between the whites and the blacks. So this novel is very important for us to study American history in the 1930s. ? Key words? Native Son; Racial Discrimination; Class Conflict I. Introduction
In the history of Afro-American literature, quite a lot of black writers put up with the same question: how can Afro-American writers react to racial discrimination? To sum up, there are two totally different opinions coexisting— one is mild and the other is radical. As to those two opinions, black writer Richard Wright serves as a watershed. Prior to Richard Wright, the heroes in black writers’ works are very obedient and obsequious. In 1940, Richard Wright published Native Son which created a completely new image of black people being filled with violence and hatred.
Native Son is just like a bombshell making a stir in American literature and American society. The new generation of black people would rather die for dignity than live in disgrace. The background of this novel containing three parts—Fear, Flight, Fate, was based on Chicago in the 1930s. The novel gives an account of a black youth named Bigger and his life experience. Shortly after Bigger is hired by the white man Mr. Dalton, he kills his daughter Mary in accident. In order to escape the punishment, Bigger, with great fear, tries to calumniate the Communist Jan.
After the truth is exposed, he has to escape and is captured by eight thousand white policemen later. In the end, he is sentenced to death. The reason why Native Son can occupy the important position in American literature is that the author uses the writing techniques of realism to reflect the furious racial and class conflicts between the whites and the blacks. The name of this novel Native Son implies double connotations: 1. Bigger is an African descendant. 2. Bigger is born in America and his behavior is the consequence of American social circumstances. So this novel is the important data for us to research
American history in the 1930s. II. Native Son sheds light on racial discrimination of American society and mirrors the awful living conditions of the black people. There are two unique evolutionary clues in American history, which are crucial for us to understand this novel: 1. American black people migrated from the south to the north during the first half of the twentieth century. 2. The Great Depression produced tremendous crisis from 1929 to 1940. The period of migration from the south to the north could be viewed as a pivotal issue in Afro-Americans’ history only next to Emancipation Proclamation.
The First World War stimulated the industrial development of the northern cities which needed a large amount of labor forces. Therefore, the black people escaping from the south gathered in the north but lived in the crowded, shabby slums. After the Civil War, Ku Klux Klan drove the black people out of the House of Representatives and other government departments. The Jim Crow law discriminating and segregating the black people was passed at that time. Furthermore, Great Depression attacked America and the U. S. government took some measures to deal with the crisis.
The social relief agency providing the job opportunities to Bigger was the outcome of crisis. The story was developed under such background. Although we don’t see any white racists in this novel, we can still feel the oppression and discrimination the black people suffered. The Biggers live in one of Chicago poor black townships called Black Belt. There is a line between the residences of the whites and the blacks. The whites are not willing to cross the line and the blacks dare not cross the line, which means they are completely isolated from each other.
We can see that point from the white girl Mary’s words: “ I’ve been to England, France and Mexico, but I don’t know how people live ten blocks from me. We know so little about each other. I just want to see. I want to know these people. Never in my life have I been inside of a Negro home. Yet they must live like we live…” The Biggers crowded in a shabby shanty have no any private space, but in contrast, there are a lot of vacant houses in the Black Belt. That is a shrewd idea the white men come across, that is to say, cutting the house supply so as to raise the rent, which is also a sign of exploitation of the black people.
The unequal treatment is not only embodied in residence, but also in everyday livelihood. “ Bread sold here for five cents a loaf, but across the “ line” where white folks lived, it sold for four. Almost all businesses in the Black Belt were owned by Jews, Italians, and Greeks. Most Negro businesses were funeral parlors; white undertakers refused to bother with dead black bodies. ” Moreover, people who are in power have adopted double standards on the issue of the blacks. Bigger kills two girls altogether—one is a white girl Mary, while the other is his black girlfriend Bessie. Though he had killed a black girl and a white girl, he knew that it would be for the death of the white girl that he would be punished. The black girl was merely ‘ evidence. ’ And under it all he knew that the white people did not really care about Bessie’s being killed. White people never searched for Negroes who killed other Negroes. He had even heard it said that white people felt it was good when one Negro killed another; it meant that they had one Negro less to contend with. Crime for Negro was only when he harmed whites, took white lives, or injured white property.  A long history of inferior schools and segregation make the great differences between the white and the black in education, social experience and behaviors. According to Native Son, the black people are deprived of rights of education, employment and even entertainment. What Bigger and his friends can do is to smoke, drink, see movies and play “ white” (referring to a game of play-acting in which Bigger and his friends imitated the ways and manners of the white folks). Their life ideals are in vain, because they have no opportunities to get formal education and just treatment.
Fear and hatred have become a kind of instinct while the black confronts the white. Bigger is compelled to kill people to relieve depressive feelings just owing to fear and hatred. He hates the white people, including Mary, despite the fact that Mary is very friendly to him. “ She was white and he hated her. ”  He doesn’t want to be caught, so he incriminates Jan, a Communist, with “ planted” evidence. He kills his black girlfriend in case she will betray him. Actually, Bigger’s crime should totally put the blame on American racialism and prejudice. III.
Native Son also disclosing the certain fundamental state of American Communist Party and fierce class conflicts between the whites and the blacks just at that time. In the 1930s, America was in the Great Depression with one fourth of the American workers losing their jobs and one third struggling to survive. In contrast, the people of the Soviet Union were living and working in prosperity and contentment. A lot of people began to question capitalism and felt interested in Marxism and the Communist Party. “ Black and White Unite and Fight. ” The slogan was issued by the Communist Party of the United States. 5]American Communist Party developed quite a lot of labor unions and Communists and tried to introduce communism to the public at that time. It should be noted that the author himself, a young black writer, was fascinated by communism and joined the Communist Party. After jointing the Party, Richard Wright worked hard at Marxism and soon became a major left-wing spokesperson. The following ten years, Richard Wright flourished both in his political life and literary pursuit. In 1944, due to the different political views, he quitted the Communist Party.
Jan and Mary in the novel can be called as a revolutionary couple. They are the white people attracted by the Communist Party and then take the road to revolution. From the description of the novel, although Mary is born in a rich capitalist family, she shows sympathy for the weak and regards the Communist Party as the savior of the unprivileged class. According to Mary’s servant Peggy, most of the black people don’t know much about communism. “ She’s a sweet thing. I’ve known her since she was two years old. To me she’s still a baby and will always be one.
But she’s kind of wild and she is always in hot water. Keeps her folks worried to death, she does. She runs around with a wild and crazy bunch of reds…. ”  Mary’s lover Jan is also one of the Communists who is also friendly to Bigger and feels sympathy for the blacks. Jan works actively and introduces the Communist Party to Biggers . Jan even tries to attract him to join the Communist Party. Intending to fight back the evil capitalist class and expand the Communist Party’s influence, the lawyer Max, a Communist, wants to help Bigger to find a way out.
Although the Communist Party can’t save Bigger’s life, the Party wins Bigger’s heart at the end of this novel. Eventually, Bigger accepts Max’s theories and regards Jan as his friend. “ Tell? Tell Mister? Tell Jan hello? ”  Native Son also reflects some limitations of American Communist Party witch was founded in 1919. The Communist Party has no perfect mechanism and armed forces. The Party is oriented towards improving social conditions and relaxing racial and class conflicts. “ What I killed for must’ve been good! It must have been good! Max’s eyes were full of terror.  From the novel, we know that Richard Wright didn’t agree to the peaceful revolution adopted by American Communist Party and later he withdrew from the Party for that reason. So far, American Communists still believe they can protect the rights of the working class by peaceful means. Native Son reflected objectively the author’s attitude to the whole American society at that moment. “ Multiply Bigger Thomas twelve million times, allowing for environmental and temperamental variations, and for those Negroes who are completely under the influence of the church, and you have the psychology of the Negro people.  The novel itself, in the meantime, implies author’s class stand and viewpoints. ? References? 1. Wright, Richard. Native Son [M]. New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1972. 2. [? ]??? ·??. ??? [M]. ???? ,??????? , 1983. 3. ???. 50??????? [M]. ??????? , 1991. 4. ???. ??????? [M]. ??????? , 1998. 5. ???. ??? ·????? [J]. ???????? (????? ), 2005. 6. ???. ?????????????? [J]. ?????????? , 2008. 7. ??.????????? [J]. ?????????? , 2001. 8. ???. ????????????? [J]. ???????? (??????? ), 2006. 9. ???. ????????????? [J]. ?????? ( ????? ), 2003. 10. ???. ???????????????? [J]. ?????? , 2006. 11. ???. ???????????? [J]. ?????? (????? ), 2005. 12. ??.????? [J]. ???????? (??????? ), 2005. 13. Boyer, Paul S. et al. The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People. 4th ed. Vol. 2. Houston Mifflin Company, 2000. 14. Sun Guan-qun. The Contradiction between Black and White. Sino-US English Teaching Volume 3, Dec. 2006. ———————– 1. Richard Wright: Native Son[M], New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1972, p. 58. 2. Richard Wright: Native Son[M], New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1972, p. 62 3. Richard Wright: Native Son[M], New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1972, p. 206 4. Richard Wright: Native Son[M], New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1972, p. 66 5. Richard Wright: Native Son[M], New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1972, p. 73 6. Richard Wright: Native Son[M], New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1972, p. 51 7. Richard Wright: Native Son[M], New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1972, p. 256 8. Richard Wright: Native Son[M], New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1972, p. 255 9. Richard Wright: Native Son[M], New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 1972, p. 240