full title · Native Son
author · Richard Wright
type of work · Novel
genre · Urban naturalism; novel of social protest
language · English
time and place written · 1938–1939, Brooklyn, New York
date of first publication · 1940
publisher · Harper and Brothers
narrator · The story is narrated in a limited third-person voice that focuses on Bigger Thomas’s thoughts and feelings.
point of view · The story is told almost exclusively from Bigger’s perspective.
tone · The narrator’s attitude toward his subject is one of absorption. The narrator is preoccupied with bringing us into Bigger’s mind and situation, using short, evocative sentences to tell the story. Though the narrator is clearly opposed to the destructive racism that the novel chronicles, there is very little narrative editorializing, though some characters, such as Max, make statements that evoke a secondary tone of social protest in the final part of the novel.
tense · Past
setting (time) · 1930s
setting (place) · Chicago
protagonist · Bigger Thomas
major conflict · The fear, hatred, and anger that racism has impressed upon Bigger Thomas ravages his individuality so severely that his only means of self-expression is violence. After killing Mary Dalton, Bigger must contend with the law, the hatred of society, and his own destructive inner feelings.
rising action · The planned robbery of Blum’s deli; Bigger’s trip to the movies; Bigger’s night with Mary and Jan
climax · Each of the three books of the novel has its own climax: Book One climaxes with the murder of Mary, Book Two with the discovery of Mary’s remains in the furnace, and Book Three with the culmination of Bigger’s trial in the death sentence.
falling action · Bigger’s trial and his relationship with Boris A. Max
themes · The effect of racism on the oppressed; the effect of racism on the oppressor; the hypocrisy of justice
motifs · Popular culture; religion; communism
symbols · Mrs. Dalton’s blindness; the cross; snow
foreshadowing · Buckley’s campaign poster; Bigger’s occasional premonitions that he will do something violent and impulsive