Why did I read it?
As I said in my last post, I am working on a Master’s in English, and I am taking a course on African American literature this semester. Our book for this week was Native Son by Richard Wright.
What’s it about?
The story follows Bigger Thomas, a 20-year-old African American man, as he struggles with being poor in Chicago in the 1930s. The story spans about a week in Bigger’s life where he gets a job, commits a crime, and goes through a trial.
What did I think?
While reading most of this book (two of the three parts really), I thought my review would be negative. However, this book is one of the most impressive pieces of literature I have ever read. I had trouble getting through the parts that explain the crimes he commits because it’s pretty gruesome, and there are some detailed sexual escapades. As I was reading those scenes, I was thinking “oh great, I’ll have to pretend to think this nasty book is more than smut while I’m giving my presentation.” (Note: if you like reading books with violence or sex, I definitely don’t judge; it’s just not my thing. If those appeal to you, the first two parts of the novel will be great for you because it is spectacular writing.)
BUT the third part of the book completely turned me around, and I feel I should offer some sort of sacrifice to the spirit of Richard Wright to apologize for doubting him. Almost the entire third section is dedicated to the trial of Bigger, and some really amazing literary tricks occur. Throughout most of the book, the narrator keeps us in Bigger’s head, but in the third part, Bigger’s voice recedes a little bit shifting attention toward the lawyers. The trial captures the conflict between white power and the oppression of blacks, Jews, and the poor happening in Richard Wright’s time. Bigger’s lawyer uses his state of mind as an oppressed man for his defense; his speech made me understand why the reader HAD to read through all the details of his crimes. The
crime itself was unimportant; Bigger’s state of mind is what Wright wanted the readers to focus on, so they could understand his lawyer’s arguments later. The ideas Wright presents are incredibly powerful and moving, and I felt like I understood a part of America’s racial history better after reading it.
I highly recommend this novel. It is not something I will revisit many times. In fact, I will probably never read it again, but I will not forget it. I am very thankful that this book was assigned to me and that I pushed through it because I think it is one of those pieces of literature that really can make you a more understanding person for having read it.