protagonist of Native Son
. A poor, uneducated black
man, Bigger comes from the lowest rung on the American social and
economic ladder. As his lack of education has left him no option
other than menial labor, he has felt trapped his whole life, resenting,
hating, and fearing the whites who define the narrow confines of
his existence. Bigger views white people as a collective, overwhelming
force that tells him where to live, where to work, and what to do.
in-depth analysis of Bigger Thomas.
daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dalton, Bigger’s wealthy employers. Mary
identifies herself as a progressive, dates an admitted communist,
and interacts with Bigger with little regard for the strict boundary
society imposes between black men and white women. Mary’s transgression
of this boundary leads to her death and the resulting development
of Bigger’s character.
in-depth analysis of Mary Dalton.
Mr. and Mrs. Dalton
A white millionaire couple living in Chicago. Mrs.
Dalton is blind; Mr. Dalton has earned a fortune in real estate.
Although he profits from charging high rents to poor black tenants—including Bigger’s
family—on Chicago’s South Side, he nonetheless claims to be a generous
philanthropist and supporter of black Americans.
member of the Communist Party and Mary Dalton’s boyfriend—a relationship
that upsets Mary’s parents. Jan, like Mary, wants to treat Bigger
as an equal, but such untraditional behavior only frightens and
angers Bigger. Jan later recognizes his mistake in trying to treat Bigger
this way and becomes sympathetic toward his plight. Jan becomes
especially aware of the social divisions that prevent Bigger from
relating normally with white society.
Boris A. Max
Jewish lawyer who works for the Labor Defenders, an organization
affiliated with the Communist Party. Max argues, based on a sociological analysis
of American society, that institutionalized racism and prejudice—not
inherent ethnic qualities—create conditions for violence in urban
in-depth analysis of Boris A. Max.
girlfriend. Their relationship remains quite distant and is largely
based upon mutual convenience rather than romantic love.
devoutly religious mother. Mrs. Thomas has accepted her precarious,
impoverished position in life and warns Bigger at the beginning
of the novel that he will meet a bad end if he fails to change his
younger brother. Buddy, unlike his brother, does not rebel against
his low position on the social ladder. In fact, he envies Bigger’s
job as a chauffeur for a rich white family. As the novel progresses,
however, Buddy begins to take on a more antagonistic attitude toward
younger sister. Vera, like Bigger, lives her life in constant fear.
G. H., Gus, and Jack
Bigger’s friends, who often plan and execute robberies
together. G. H., Gus, and Jack hatch a tentative plan to rob a white
shopkeeper, Mr. Blum, but they are afraid of the consequences if
they should be caught robbing a white man. At the beginning of the novel,
Bigger taunts his friends about their fear, even though he is just
as terrified himself.
white man who owns a delicatessen on the South Side of Chicago.
Mr. Blum represents an inviting robbery target for Bigger and his
friends, but their fear of the consequences of robbing a white man
initially prevents them from following through on their plan.
racist, anticommunist private investigator who helps Mr. Dalton
investigate Mary’s disappearance.
incumbent State’s Attorney who is running for reelection. Buckley
is viciously racist and anticommunist.
Irish immigrant who has worked as the Daltons’ cook for years. Peggy
considers the Daltons to be marvelous benefactors to black Americans.
Though she is actively kind to Bigger, she is also extremely patronizing.
black owner of a pool hall on the South Side of Chicago that serves
as a hangout for Bigger and his friends.
The pastor of Mrs. Thomas’s church who urges Bigger
to turn toward religion in times of trouble.