Book Jones Books

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Books You Oughta Read Before You Kick – #1 NATIVE SON by Richard Wright

Native Son
Native Son
by Richard Wright
Harper Perrenial
Native Son by Richard Wright is my first choice in the Book Jones BYORBYK series. It is a must-read novel not only because it helps one understand the plight of African American's during the early part of the 20th century, when the story takes place, but more aptly because there arguably were no other contemporaneous works of fiction that dared broach the subject as deeply. It is unique in that respect, a novel written by an African American author not afraid to reveal the ugly truth.

Richard Wright: The Early Years

Richard Wright grew up in the Jim Crow south during the 1910's through the 20's. His sharecropper father abandoned the family when Richard was still a child and in 1920 his mother became a paralytic, leaving Richard's illiterate grandmother to raise him. He published his first short story, The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre, at the age of 16 in 1924. In 1927 he moved to Chicago, where he worked at many diverse jobs and joined an intellectual arm of the Communist Party called the John Reed Club. He also wrote an early novel during this time. But his literary career didn't truly begin until he moved to New York in 1937. It was there he published his book of short stories, entitled Uncle Tom's Children. in 1938Two years later Native Son was published to rave reviews and became the first best-selling novel by an African American.

Plot in Native Son

The author Richard Wright
In Native Son, Bigger Thomas, a small time thief and street thug, in an effort to please his mother, gets a job as a chauffeur for a wealthy white businessman's family. In the course of his job, he becomes enamored of his employer's young daughter. One night after driving her and her communist boyfriend to dinner, drinks and then home, he finds he must carry the inebriated girl to her bed. In a moment of panic, which is one of the most intriguing, and horrific scenes I've ever read, he murders the girl. What follows is more horrific right up through Book Two - Flight in which he is pursued and Book Three - Fate in which Bigger is tried in court, defended by a communist lawyer.

Influence and Criticism

The novel, as Wright said in his essay, How Bigger Was Born, was one that he needed to write, a book that bankers' daughters would not be able to "read and feel good about". Wright wanted his character Bigger to be seen as a product of the White dominated, and inevitably racist world which regrettably still exists to some extent today. It is in some respect a caveat to an angry world. Native Son is considered Wright's most influential work. He's been called the father of African American literature, although James Baldwin has most notably criticized this work as a "protest novel", in a series of essays published in 1949.  Baldwin wrote. "The failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being, the denial of his beauty, dread, power, in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended."

Native Son survives today as a classic of it's genre, reader's are still horrified by it's ugly truths. It stands as a testament to the ultimate failure of a racist society.

  • Title: Native Son
  • Author: Richard Wright
  • Paperback: 594 pages
  • Publisher: HARPER PERENNIAL (1996)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0010WECYW

Other titles by Richard Wright include:

Uncle Tom's Children
Black Boy 
The Outsider 

Source: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/r_wright/wright_life.htm - Richard Wright's Life by Ann Rayson

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