Character Analysis of Bigger Thomas
By Daniel Smith
The book Native Son by Richard Wright portrays a young black man in the American civilization during the 1940's. Bigger is used by Wright to symbolize many things in life, some greater, some smaller. He uses Bigger to show feelings and tension between the white and black community as well as tension between conformists and rebels. The story provides a container in which all the feelings from Wright's life and experiences can be poured together for analysis and interpretation.
The novel is separated into 3 smaller "books" in which Bigger undergoes many internal changes. At first, Bigger is very insecure. He is callous on the outside, but frightened and upset inside. He changes from this after the murder to a man that is sure of himself and critical of others. This is followed by the metamorphosis into a form that is less than human; he cuts off all with the outside world. This separation in the story also allows a distinct structure for the feelings and actions between the whites and blacks. The feelings are progressed from an initial state of ignorance and salutary neglect to a hot pursuit and prosecution.
At first, Bigger is much like most American teenagers. He presents a very callous and rebellious image to those who see him, but inside is very insecure. He many times relies on the fear and lack of courage from others to project his own self esteem and ego. Such an event is that of the fight with Gus. Bigger and his friends are formulating the possibility and plan to rob a local store. This event would be no different from others performed in the past by this group of teenagers except for the fact that this store is owned by a white man. Bigger exploits Gus' fear of robbing the store in order to cover up his own lack of courage. G.H., one of the other boys in the group, begins to notice Bigger's plan and slips into the conversation the statement, "Ain't none of us got more guts'n Gus, He's been with us every time." (P38) This was cast away by Bigger by saying, "Don't tell me I'm nervous." (P39) Bigger supports his callous exterior and insecurity by the way he treats his family. He communicates a sense of superiority over his family members in order to feed his internal furnace of social uneasiness. Along with this condemning of his family, comes his feelings towards religion, especially his mother's affiliation. He feels very strongly about the way his people are treated by the whites; he believes that organized religion opiates blacks to "blindly" wander through life with the constant goal of reaching heaven in order to rid themselves of this mistreatment. Bigger feels that the only way to defend himself against society's harms are to be a nonconformist and rebel against the ways and laws set upon him by this race of equal, yet superior beings that feel they have the power to control his life. This is a double-standard that Bigger holds very unjustly of others; he treats his family members and friends in the same way that the whites treat the blacks.
After Bigger accepts the job with the Dalton family and so dutifully executes his employer's request, he is backed into a corner in which escape is impossible. After the murder of Mary Dalton and the disposal of the corpse, Bigger undergoes an incredible change. He allows what he has presented to civilization to penetrate and infect his internal reasoning and self image. He convinces himself that he planned and executed the murder on purpose and is now a better person because of it. He begins to allow himself to slip into a mindset of superiority over all people. He feels that what he has accomplished internally by killing Mary is unequal and unparalleled by any of his peers and family members. From this point on, Bigger begins to subject every soul he encounters to a test of character. He compares his image of them to the image he holds of his newly reformed self; from this test he draws his belief of superiority. After judging many people, Bigger realizes what has come over him, he realizes what has changed about his mentality, he understands why and how society has demoted itself to it's current state of civil war; Bigger feels he has opened his eyes and can now see the inner workings of society and it's incessant movement of tension. This revolutionary thought flicks on inside Bigger's brain like a light switch, he is immediately transformed and begins to attempt to rationalize the behavior of humans. He concludes from this that most people are blind and cannot see what he can now so easily interpret; he feels that if everyone could have a glimpse at the world through his point of view, that society would be changed forever. The statement "It's just like living in jail. Half the time I feel like I'm on the outside of the world peeping in through a knot-hole in the fenceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦" (P23) shows how Bigger once perceived the world, and what the people that he deems "blind" are still seeing.
The metamorphosis from his initial state to his reformed and "open-eyed" existence brought symbols with greater meanings. Bigger's treatment of his family members was the start of a virus within his subconscious that was further progressed by his recent revelation. As he evolved into this unique and isolated being, his life and actions began to parallel the history and development of the civilization from which he was created. His actions and thoughts of superiority over others was much like the ambush of white tyranny over the minority civilization. He, like whites, continued to test and prove to himself his supremacy. His execution of Bessie is an example of his self-appointed right to do anything necessary to complete his task, much like the philosophy of the German army at the turn of the century (Real Politk).
One final major transformation is made by Bigger Thomas. His inevitable capture by the police is achieved. The main reason for Bigger's downfall is his insecure mentality. The remains of Mary are found and the investigation turns full-force in the direction of the black chauffeur. Bigger had many chances to take care of Mary's remains and secure his escape, but his newly found superiority told him that because of the ignorance and inferior minds of those investigating the murder, he would prevail. After his capture and imprisonment, Bigger cuts off all communication lines to the outside world. He does not speak, eat, drink, smoke, or express any emotion to anything outside of his skin. He has regressed to his original state of callous exterior while harboring intense emotion and feeling inside.
Richard Wright wrote the book Native Son with a goal in mind; he wanted to mix together many different aspects of life and civilization together with the final duty of presenting the concoction in a story line that can notice, evaluate, and explain the feelings, tensions, and downfalls to a reader. The main character is the center in which the symbols revolve; he is the cornerstone that relates all of the images and feelings together as a whole piece.
Bigger symbolized the black community. He was everything that the whites hated about blacks and he did everything that whites associate with all blacks. He was the stereotype to which the rest of the black community was compared. Bigger committed crimes and provided a chase for the whites. After the publication of the murder and the idea of Bigger as the main suspect, the whites began to ravage the black community, treating all Negroes as an accomplice to this great crime; the whole community suffered for Bigger's sins.
That point leads to the next image that Bigger symbolizes: Jesus. It was stated that Bigger, unsatisfied with his current life, destroyed it and created a new one. He created what was in his mind the correct way to think and live, and for that, he was to die. He was like Jesus in the sense that he committed sins for the black community, took responsibility, and was to be executed for them; much like Jesus was.
This is a strange comparison because of what his mother and her religion symbolized. His mother was a "blind" character to Bigger. She followed religion that told her to endure this torture in order to reach eternal life and happiness. This enraged Bigger because in his mind, this was not an acceptable solution, he wanted change. Bessie was much like Bigger's mother in the sense that she was "blind" and hid under the cover of her alcohol in order to endure the mistreatment from the whites.