The Continuation of Fear

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Evan Hutchinson



The Continuation of Fear

Can a society be compared to a single man that is a representative of that nation? Through the eyes of history, can we depict the transition of oppression for one race to another? From the beginning of the novel Native Son, the reader receives an image of the protagonist Bigger Thomas. Set in the 1930’s, Richard Wright creates a character that is an African American man who is shaped from living in the Black Belt of Chicago. The trials and events Bigger goes through in the book are a result of his rank in society, which eventually leads to the climax; the killing of a young white woman out of his fears. After that, the reader sees Bigger’s life mold into Flight and Fate from his Fears. Bigger, a fictional character, was set in real American history. Throughout the story, Bigger Thomas’s reaction to fear in parallels American history. The character Bigger Thomas depicts a timeline of oppression as seen through events in American history. 

Between 1866 and 1915, more than 25 million immigrants came to the United States of America to be a part of the land of opportunities and of the free. This was mostly due to oppression and poverty in other countries. For example, in Eastern Europe, political and religious persecution pushed many people to leave and create a land of their own. The character Max, Bigger’s lawyer, pointed out the true and initial purpose of America during Bigger’s trial towards the end of Native Son. He states: “Our forefathers came to these shores and faced a harsh and wild country. They came here with a stifled dream in their hearts, from lands where their personalities had been denied,…” (Wright, 388-389). When Bigger was on trial for the death sentence, Max noticed a pattern happening in our world. He saw that what the white men are doing to Bigger now is the oppression our forefathers once felt. He was trying to convey that sentencing Bigger to death is a continuation of oppression and throwing away ones dreams. This is an example of America not being the land of opportunity and freedom that it claims to be. The white men created the false promise of freedom and hopes for a better life that attracted poor and oppressed people from other countries.

Between 1500 and 1867, over 12 million Africans were shipped over to the United States to be enslaved. From that happening and on, it caused Blacks to be oppressed. Even after Blacks were enslaved and freed, segregation became an issue. Racial segregation was characterized by the separation of the two races in daily life. When looking at racial segregation, it seemed as just a social norm to white citizens and those born into slavery. With this ideology, Max during the trial states: “What is happening here today is not injustice, but oppression, an attempt to throttle or stamp out a new form of life,” (Wright, pg. 391). America exists today because of the dreams these men had once lost, but now could regain. Through this, eventually, the men who were oppressed in their homelands became the oppressors in their new lands; the Whites. 

Without our forefathers being oppressed and becoming the oppressors through enslaving blacks, Bigger Thomas would have never been created by Richard Wright. Bigger was an example of what segregation of the 1930’s and oppression creates. Along with Native Son, Richard Wright wrote “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow.” This piece of literature was written as if it was a handbook on how blacks should and shouldn’t act in the presence of white men. Wright created a book about his experiences growing up as an African American boy in a white dominated society. Because of the oppression in American history, it influenced Richard Wright to state that: “…I learned to lie, to steal, to dissemble. I learned to play that dual role which every Negro must play if he wants to eat and live,” (The Ethics of Living Jim Crow, Wright. Pg. 175). Through Bigger, the reader got a true sense of what oppression can do to one and how it affects one’s behavior and morals. With the oppression American history created, Bigger Thomas’s Fear would have never been created. The effects on Bigger were mainly based off of the fears he had, which triggered him to flee. From running away from his past, the novel transitions into another focus of Bigger’s life. Instead of his fears, the book becomes focused on his Flight out of fear. After running away from his past, Fate could only determine his future. Bigger’s three phases were encapsulated in the three “books” (Fear, Flight, and Fate) that make up his Native Son.

Native Son mostly covers Bigger’s fears and what evolves from them. When Max is defending Bigger in court, Max brings up the subject on African American feelings and behaviors. He states: “They hate because they fear, and they fear because they feel that the deepest feelings of their lives are being assaulted and outraged. And they do not know why; they are powerless pawns in a blind play of social force,” (Wright, 390). However, when noticing his initial fears, those fears that had been created had to have been a result of something else. All of these apprehensions that have been created can all root from the society and environment that he has been brought up in; a white man’s society.

Due to how Bigger and blacks were being treated then and how society ranked individuals, it created a sense of distress and terror throughout African Americans. Bigger was oppressed through the way he had to live in the Black Belt, how he was spoken towards from Whites, and eventually how the judge determines his death. What the White people don’t seem to realize in the book is that this monster (Bigger) is something that they themselves have created; it was an act of creation. They seem to think that Blacks are naturally like that. When in court, Max brings up a good point. He says: “The boy represents but a tiny aspect of a problem whose reality sprawls over a third of his nation,” (Wright, 391). The death of Bigger won’t change the society as a whole, but it will inevitably lead to something else. Max tries to tell people the killing of one African American will not put an end to what they have already created. “`Death!” And that would be the end of this case. But that would not be the end of this crime!,” (Wright, 384). From the society that America created, most of the African Americans are oppressed and have the same feelings deep down inside like Bigger does. The real crime in this instance is the brutality and fear that America has created, not the murder of the two women. Without that fear and oppression, those murders would have never existed. Bigger Thomas is an African American person that feels what every other African American feels, but does what every other African American wishes to do, but is too scared to do. That is ironic because all of his actions are based and branched off of his fears.

The act of fear alone did not only drive Bigger’s actions when he beat up his friend, Gus, or when he killed his boss’s daughter, Mary Dalton, or even his girlfriend, Bessie. It was also America’s infliction’s that drove him to take these steps. Fear has created wars in American history, the 14th Amendment that guarantees rights for all citizens, and the exclusion acts on immigration. The whole concept of laws and why they were created was based off of fear. The first people of America were scared that the same mistakes would be made that their oppressors made to them in the past. They were also scared that new people of America would revolt in certain situations on the government, so in order to fix that they created a law and a punishment that came with it if it was to be broken. It was all created from the initial thoughts of fear.

Fear, in both Bigger Thomas and American history has created the character Bigger Thomas. Bigger is a single man that is a representative of America and its history. Through American history and the book Native Son, we can see the similarities of oppression from one race to another. From the oppression America created, Bigger’s initial feelings were established by the fears America had; the fear of what could happen to this fresh country. When analyzing the patterns of Bigger’s life and American history, it is evident that all of the occurrences are formed from one initial event and thought. Because of the ingredients put into the American recipe, Bigger and his feelings were created.

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