Authored by African American author Richard Wright, Native Son follows a story of 20-year-old Bigger Thomas, a black American young man living in inner city Chicago in the 1930s. Through a third-person style of writing, we see the main character navigate a world that is under the climate of harsh racial prejudice. A world that is designed to destroy Bigger’s self-worth, one that forces upon him conflicting emotions of turmoil caused from living as a black person in a racist society.
Not only does Bigger Thomas struggle because of the oppressive white society, but also as a result of being oppressed, he desperately seeks acknowledgement and meaning within a world that has offered him none. Themes such as isolation, alienation and self-awareness were major themes constant throughout the whole book. The protagonist, Bigger Thomas was subject to all, especially self-realization. Alienated from the mainstream of society, Bigger despairingly searches for a way to overcome his personal sense of worthlessness. Bigger’s achievement of self-awareness and gaining the meaning of his life’s existence is a gradual process that begins with denial, followed by confusion and slowly, realization as he works through his feelings and experiences, including the murder of Mary and Bessie and his trial.
As the novel begins, Bigger is evidently seen as someone conditioned by racial exclusion and hatred. “I know I oughtn’t think about it, but I can’t help it. Every time I think about it, I feel like somebody’s poking a red-hot iron down my throat.
God-dammit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain’t. They do things and we can’t·” (Wright, 6). This passage shows the ultimate reason for Bigger having a hard time with understanding himself is because of the restrictions imposed on black people. For Bigger, there is no escape from this condition, and eventually as his frustration and despair mount, Bigger feels a sense of awaiting tragedy. Bigger faces a persistent battle about the meaning of his existence and how to properly acknowledge his feelings, “He knew that the moment he allowed what his life meant to enter fully into his consciousness, he would either kill himself or someone else” (Wright 9). Although Bigger avoids recognizing himself at all costs because doing so will make him turn to violence, the mere fact that that Bigger realizes the only thing that fills the void is violence and hatred, marks the beginning of Bigger’s journey of bringing himself to self awareness.