Native Son

Characters

Boris A. Max

Characters Boris A. Max

The lawyer who defends Bigger at his trial, Max is a member of the Labor Defenders, a legal organization affiliated with the Communist Party. While it would seem natural for Max himself to be a communist, his party affiliation is never made explicitly clear in the novel. Max is certainly sympathetic to the communist cause, but, unlike Jan, never identifies himself as a member of the Party.

Of all the white characters in the novel, Max is able to see and understand Bigger most clearly. He speaks to Bigger as a human being, rather than simply as a black man or a murderer, which gives Bigger the chance to tell his own story for the first time in his life. Max’s recognition of Bigger’s humanity allows Bigger to understand for the first time that a sympathetic relationship between a white man and a black man is possible. Still, Max is unable to avoid viewing Bigger as a symbol of racial oppression—one of millions of black men just like him—and therefore is never able to understand him fully.

Critics have argued that Max is never fully defined as a character and is simply a spokesman for Wright. It is clear that Max does, in some respects, serve as a mouthpiece for the novel’s sociological analysis of Bigger’s condition. Though Bigger feels what is happening to him throughout the novel, he is often unable, sometimes intentionally, to grasp it consciously. Max, in his courtroom speech, is able to articulate many of these unexpressed perceptions that Bigger has felt. Max does not argue Bigger’s innocence: his impassioned speech is a plea for the court to recognize Bigger for who he is and to understand the conditions that have created him. In this regard, Max serves as a voice for Wright’s warning to America about the consequences of continued racial oppression.