Native Son

Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  Native Son

author   Richard Wright

type of work   Novel

genre   Urban naturalism; novel of social protest

language   English

time and place written  19381939, 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