Automatic Acceptance of an Inferior Role by Blacks in Native Son
Native Son is one of the many novels authored by Richard Wright that border on the issue of racism and its implications. The novel is an embodiment of the hegemony of the white people as well as the close-mindedness and intentional powerlessness of the black people. While white people are dominating and asserting their superiority, the blacks in the novel seem to be accepting and advocating it so much so that it has become second nature to them.
Bigger is the young, black protagonist who is frustrated and blames everything on the white people. He claims to be a brave person who wants to give the whites a taste of their own medicine when he and his gang decide to rob a white man’s shop. On the contrary, when he goes to Mr. Dalton’s house, a white, he is scared beyond reason. On reaching the place, he is unable to decide from which door he should enter. Finally, he decides upon the back door. Although he is unaware of the manners of white people since this is the first time he has visited any white area, his decision to choose the backdoor displays his fear and a sense of inferiority.
When he is unable to find a way to a backdoor, he is scared that the police will catch him. Everything he does while he is there tells him he might not be doing the right thing. On ringing the bell, he thinks it is loud. There is an inner conflict in Bigger where there is an overburdening realization of his black identity in a white backdrop. He is not used to feeling so scared and inferior as he feels in this surrounding and yet he cannot help but succumb to the general codes followed by the blacks in such a situation, such as lowering of eyes when meeting Mr. Dalton, saying “Yessuh” as in the military to a superior, etc. Hence, he unintentionally lowers his self-esteem for the white man.
Moreover, when the cat jumps on the table of Mr. Dalton and eyes Bigger while he is searching his pocket for a letter, this brings in mind the earlier scene where Bigger with his brother run after the rat to kill it. Here, Bigger becomes the vicious rat that was previously attacking them back just like Bigger fighting with Gus but in this particular situation, is timid and powerless. Thus, the cat signifies the whites while the filthy rat that could not save itself could be taken as a symbol for the blacks.
Bigger also has an unreal perception about the white people that he has acquired through the movies. Once he is actually in that world, it seems very unfamiliar and unlike what he had seen in the movies. Thus, his insight into the white world was shortsighted. This is also one of the reasons he automatically shifts from a macho man in the black world to a wimp in the white one.
Bigger’s inability to deal with his fears stems from lack of realization. He plays the blame game every time he is afraid. At other times, he displays his physical power to establish his dominance. At still other instances, he gets angry at someone or even himself. This lack of awareness about himself in particular and the white world in general lead him to act very cautiously around the white people. He is so conscious that he unawares, takes on the role of the oppressed and gives the status of the oppressor to Mr. Dalton, the white.
Wright, Richard. Native Son.