Native Son

Summary

Book Two (part one)

Summary Book Two (part one)

Bigger berates himself for somehow failing to acquire more money during the murder and cover-up, feeling that he should have planned things more carefully. He visits Bessie and shows her the money. Bessie tells Bigger that his employers live in the same section of town as the Loeb family. They discuss a recent case in which Richard Loeb and his friend Nathan Leopold kidnapped a neighborhood boy, killed him, and tried to collect ransom money from the family. Bigger remembers the case and begins to concoct his own ransom plan.

Bigger sees that Bessie is as blind as his family, as she uses liquor to blot out the pain of her life. He struggles over whether or not to trust her, but tells her that he has a big plan to obtain more money. Bigger tells Bessie that the Daltons’ daughter ran away with a “Red,” and that he took the money from Mary’s room after she disappeared. He says he wants to write a ransom note and collect more. He assures Bessie that Mary has disappeared for good, but Bessie is suspicious of how he knows for certain. When Bessie asks Bigger if he is involved with Mary’s disappearance, he threatens to beat her. He tells Bessie to retrieve the ransom money at a planned drop-off site, assuring her that he will be able to warn her if the money is marked or if the police are watching, as he works for the Daltons and will be privy to their plans. Bessie hesitantly agrees to help, so he gives her Mary’s money for safekeeping.

Analysis

Structurally, the opening of Book Two inaugurates a new phase of Native Son that corresponds with a turn in the novel’s events. Mary’s death represents a key turning point in the plot, both in terms of the narrative and in terms of Bigger’s development as a character. In Book One, “Fear,” Bigger is unable to analyze his behavior, aside from a few instances when he rationalizes his actions enough to forget them. In Book Two, “Flight,” he begins to actively contemplate his identity and consciousness. At the beginning of the novel, Bigger writhes under the yoke of white authority, resentful of the line drawn between himself and white America. However, he does not cross this line until terror drives him to kill Mary by accident. Though this action threatens Bigger’s life, it also, ironically, gives him a tangible goal: to get away with the murder. Bigger now feels the sense of clear purpose he lacks prior to killing Mary.

Bigger clearly still suffers from self-deception. Mary’s death is an accident, but he convinces himself that it was a deliberate action on his part. To Bigger, the deliberate murder of a white woman represents the ultimate rebellion against the crushing authority of “whiteness.” While he has in fact killed a white girl, Bigger convinces himself that he did not do so accidentally, but rather he consciously challenged and defeated the unfair social order imposed upon him. Given that Bigger does not have the ability to determine life and death, he feels that he now possesses a power that white America has used against him since his birth. In Bigger’s fantasy, his alleged victory is an act of creation: he believes that killing Mary gives him a new life, one that he himself controls. Bigger sees framing Jan as merely the first step in constructing and protecting his new life. Through these actions, Bigger claims equality with whites on his own terms, and feels that he has become more human because his life now holds purpose. A bitter irony pervades this entire idea of life-affirming transformation, as the transformation occurs only after a brutal, irrational act of violence.

Bigger believes that blacks who simply accept the social order defined by white America are blinding themselves to the truth. His mother is blind because she depends on religion to cope with her disadvantaged position in life, and because she accepts the role she has been assigned despite the suffering it causes. Buddy views Bigger’s menial job as an honorable position. In Bigger’s eyes, Buddy’s attitude means that Buddy accepts the subservient role white America has assigned him. Vera spends every minute of her life in fear, but accepts this fear as an inevitable part of her existence as a poor black girl. Additionally, Bigger sees Mary, Jan, and the Daltons as blind because he senses that they arrogantly assume that their knowledge of “blackness” can protect them.

Bigger’s longing for a leader who can bring solidarity to the black community represents a warning on Wright’s part. When Bigger looks to the fascist leaders of Italy and Germany, he finds much that he admires. He does not care whether these leaders are morally right or wrong, but only that they point to a possible avenue of escape from the white force that oppresses Bigger and the black community. Through the character of Bigger, Wright shows us that the conditions in 1930s America are ripe for fascism to flourish and that millions of oppressed people are waiting to unite behind a powerful and charismatic leader, regardless of that leader’s moral character.