Native Son

Summary

Book Two (part one)

Summary Book Two (part one)

To disguise his identity as an unrepentant black murderer of a white woman, Bigger plays the expected role of the humble, ignorant, subservient black boy. In this sense, he is beginning to manipulate his identity to his advantage. The Daltons’ racism blinds them to Bigger’s role in Mary’s death, as they are unable to imagine Bigger taking any action beyond the role that they have already assigned him. Bigger thus subverts racial stereotypes, using them as a form of resistance and protection against white authority.

Now that Bigger has broken the ultimate social barrier by killing a white woman, he no longer feels afraid to commit robbery against whites. Bigger’s plan to collect a ransom from the Daltons is inspired by the real-life Leopold and Loeb case. In the 1920s, two bored, wealthy students from prominent Chicago families decided to commit what they considered the perfect crime. For months, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb planned to kidnap the child of a wealthy family. They killed the child to cover up their crime, and then planned to collect $10,000 in ransom money from the family. Leopold, however, accidentally dropped his glasses when disposing of the child’s body, and this evidence led to his and Loeb’s arrests, trials, convictions, and sentences to life imprisonment. Clarence Darrow, the defending attorney in the famous Scopes monkey trial, defended Leopold and Loeb. He argued that World War I had led to a cheapening of human life and that his clients had grown up in a world that learned to glorify violence. Darrow thus argued that Leopold and Loeb’s environment had influenced their callous attitude toward human life. In legal terms, Leopold and Loeb’s crime is more serious that Bigger’s, as it was completely premeditated rather than accidental. However, Wright reminds us that it is unlikely that anyone in the 1930s would accept the possibility that a black man such as Bigger accidentally killed a white woman such as Mary.