Native Son by Richard Wright Chapter's Summary [Non-African Prose]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR 
Richard Nathaniel Wright was an American author of novels, short stories, poems, and . non-fiction. Much of his literature concerns racial themes, especially related to the plight of African Americans].

Native Son by Richard Wright Chapter by Chapter Summary [Non-African Prose]

Chapter One

FEAR
Bigger Thomas awakens in a dark, small room to the sound of the alarm clock He lives in one room with his brother Buddy, his sister Vera, and their mother.

Suddenly, a rat appears. The room turns into a maelstrom, and after a violent chase, Bigger claims the life of the animal with an iron skillet and terrorizes Vera with the dead rodent.

Vera faints, and Mrs. Thomas scolds Bigger, who hates his family because they suffer and he cannot do anything about it.

That evening, Bigger has to see Mr. Dalton for a newjob. Bigger's family depends on him. He would like to leave his responsibilities forever, but when he thinks of what to do, he only sees a blank wall.  Bigger walks to the poolroom and meets his friend, Gus.

Bigger tells him that every time he thinks about whites, he feels something terrible will happen to him. They meet other friends, G.H. and Jack, and plan a robbery of the white wealth. They are all afraid of attacking and stealing from a white man, but none of them wants to admit his concerns. Before the robbery, Bigger and Jack go to the movies.

They are attracted to the world of wealthy whites in the newsreel and feel strangely moved by the tom-toms and the primitive black people in the film, but they also feel they are equal to those worlds. After the film, Bigger returns to the poolroom and attacks Gus violently, forcing him to lick his blade in a demeaning way to hide Bigger's own cowardice. The fight ends any chance of the robbery's occurring, and Bigger is obscurely conscious that he has done this intentionally.

When he finally gets the job, Bigger does not know how to behave in Dalton's large and luxurious house. Mr. Dalton and his blind wife use strange words. They try to be kind to Bigger, but they actually make him very uncomfortable; Bigger does not know what they expect of him.

Then their daughter, Mary, enters the room, asks Bigger why he does not belong to a union, and calls her father a "capitalist". Bigger does not know that word and is even more confused and afraid to lose the job. After the conversation, Peggy, an Irish cook, takes Bigger to his room and tells him the Daltons are a nice family, but he must avoid Mary's Communist friends. Bigger has never had a room for himself before.

That night, he drives Mary around and meets her Communist boyfriend Jan. Throughout the evening, Jan and Mary talk to Bigger, oblige him to take them to the diner where his friends are, invite him to sit at their table, and tell him to call them by their first names. Bigger does not know how to respond to their requests and becomes very frustrated, as he is simply their chauffeur for the night. At the diner, they buy a bottle of rum. Bigger drives throughout Washington Park, and Jan and Mary drink the rum and make out in the back seat. Jan and Mary part, but Mary is so drunk that Bigger has to carry her to her bedroom when they arrive home. He is terrified someone will see him with her in his arms; however, he cannot resist the temptation of the forbidden, and he kisses her.

Just then, the bedroom door opens, and Mrs. Dalton enters. Bigger knows she is blind but is terrified she will sense him there. He silences Mary by pressing a pillow into her face. Mary claws at Bigger's hands while Mrs. Dalton is in the room, trying to alert Bigger that she cannot breathe. Mrs. Dalton approaches the bed, smells alcohol in the air, scolds her daughter, and leaves. As Bigger removes the pillow, he realizes that Mary has suffocated. Bigger starts thinking frantically, and decides he will tell everyone that Jan, her Communist boyfriend, took Mary into the house that night. Thinking it will be better if Mary disappears and everyone thinks she has left Chicago, he decides in desperation to burn her body in the house's furnace. Her body would not originally fit through the furnace opening, but after decapitating it, Bigger finally manages to put the corpse inside. He adds extra coal to the furnace, leaves the corpse to burn, and goes home.

Chapter Two

FLIGHT
Bigger's current girlfriend Bessie suspects him of having done something to Mary. Bigger goes back to work Mr. Dalton has called a private detective, Mr. Britten. Britten interrogates Bigger accusingly, but Dalton vouches for Bigger. Bigger relates the events of the previous evening in a way calculated to throw suspicion on Jan, knowing Mr. Dalton dislikes Jan because Jan is a Communist. When Britten finds Jan, he puts the boy and Bigger in the same room and confronts them with their conflicting stories. Jan is surprised by Bigger's story but offers him help.

Bigger storms away from the Daltons'. He decides to write a false kidnapping note when he discovers Mr. Dalton owns the rat-infested flat Bigger's family rents. Bigger slips the note under the Daltons' front door and then returns to his room.

When the Daltons receive the note, they contact the police, who take over the investigation from Britten, and journalists soon arrive at the house. Bigger is afraid, but he does not want to leave. In the afternoon, he is ordered to take the ashes out of the furnace and make a new fire. He is terrified and starts poking the ashes with the shovel until the whole room is full of smoke. Furious, one of thejournalists takes the shovel and pushes Bigger aside. He immediately finds the remains of Mary's bones and an earring in the furnace, and Bigger flees.  Bigger goes directly to Bessie and tells her the whole story. Bessie realizes that white people will think he raped the girl before killing her. They leave together, but Bigger has to drag Bessie around because she is paralyzed by fear. When they lie down together in an abandoned building, Bigger rapes Bessie and falls asleep. In the morning, he decides he has to kill her in her sleep. He hits Bessie on the head with a brick before throwing her through a window and into an air shaft. He quickly realizes that the only money he had was in her pocket.

Bigger runs through the city. He sees newspaper headlines concerning the crime and overhears different conversations about it. Whites hate him and blacks hate him because he brought shame on the black race. After a wild chase over the rooftops of the city, the police catch him.

Chapter Three

FATE
During his first few days in prison, Bigger does not eat, drink, or talk to anyone. Then Jan comes to visit him. He says Bigger has taught him a lot about black-white relationships and offers him the help of a Communist lawyer named Boris Max. In the long hours Max and Bigger spend talking, Bigger starts understanding his relationships with his family and with the world. He acknowledges his fury, his need for a future, and his wish for a meaningful life.

He reconsiders his attitudes about white people, whether they are aggressive like Britten, or accepting like Jan.  Bigger is found guilty in front of the court and sentenced to death for murder. However, at the end of the novel, he appears to come to terms with his fate.

CHARACTERS

1. Bigger Thomas:
The protagonist of the novel, Bigger commits two ghastly crimes and is put on trial for his life. He is convicted and sentenced to the electric chair. His acts give the novel action but the real plot involves Bigger's reactions to his environment and his crime.

Through it all, Bigger struggles to discuss his feelings, but he can neither find the words to fully express himself nor does he have the time to say them. However, as they have been related through the narration, Bigger-typical of the "outsider" archetype—has finally discovered the only important and real thing: his life. Though too late, his realization that he is alive-and able to choose to befriend Mr. Max-creates some hope that men like him might be reached earlier.

Debatable as the final scene is, in which for the first time Bigger calls a white man by his first name, Bigger is never anything but a failed human. He represents a black man conscious of a system of racial oppression that leaves him no opportunity to exist but through crime. As he says to Gus, "They don't let us do nothing... [and] I can't get used to it." A line goes, one cannot exist by simply reacting: a man must be more than the sum total of his brutalization.

Bigger admits to wanting to be an aviator and later, to Max, aspire to other positions esteemed in the American Dream. But here he can do nothing . ..just be one of many blacks in what was called the "ghetto" and maybe get a job serving whites; crime seems preferable, rather accidental or inevitable. Not surprisingly, then, he already has a criminal history, and he has even been to reform school. Ultimately, the snap decisions which law calls "crimes" arose from assaults to his dignity, and being trapped like the rat he killed with a pan living a life where others held the skillet.

2. Mary Dalton:
An only child, Mary is a very rich white girl who has far leftist leanings. She is a Communist sympathizer recently understood to be frolicking with Jan, a known Communist party organizer. Consequently, she is trying to abide, for a time, by her parents' wishes and go to Detroit. She is to leave the morning after Bigger is hired as the family chauffeur. Under the ruse of a University meeting, she has Bigger take her to meet Jan. When they return to the house, she is too drunk to make it to her room unassisted and thus, Bigger helps her.

Mrs. Dalton comes upon them in the room and Bigger smothers her for fear that Mrs. Dalton will discover him. Although she dies earlier in the story, she remains a significant plot element, as Bigger constantly has flashbacks during stressful times, in which he sees various scenes from her murder.

3. Henry Dalton:
Father of Mary, he owns a controlling amount of stock in a real estate firm which maintains the black ghetto. Blacks in the ghetto pay too much for rat-infested flats. As Max points out at the inquest, Mr. Dalton refuses to rent flats to black people outside of the designated ghetto area. He does this while donating money to the NAACP, buying ping-pong tables for the local black youth outreach program, and giving people like Bigger a chance at employment. Mr. Dalton's philanthropy, however, only shows off his wealth while backing up the business practices which contain an already oppressed people. An example of this is when the reader learns that Mr. Dalton owns the real estate company that controls a lot of the South Side (where most of the black community lives), but instead of using his power to improve their situation, he does things such as donate ping pong tables to them, or hire individual blacks to work in his house. Mr. Dalton is blind to the real plight of blacks in the ghetto, a plight that he maintains.

4. Mrs. Dalton:
Mary Dalton's mother. Her blindness serves to accentuate the motif of racial blindness throughout the story. Both Bigger and Max comment on how people are blind to the reality of race in America. Mrs. Dalton betrays her metaphorical blindness when she meets Mrs. Thomas. Mrs. Dalton hides behind her philanthropy and claims there is nothing she can do for Bigger.

5. Jan Erlone:
Jan is a member of the Communist Party as well as the boyfriend of the very rich Mary Dalton. Bigger attempts to frame him for the murder of Mary. Even though Bigger attempts to frame him, Jan uses this to try to prove that black people aren't masters of their own destinies, but rather, a product of an oppressive white society. Jan had already been seeking for a way to understand the 'negro' so as to organize them along communist lines against the rich like Mr. Dalton. He is not able to fully do so, but he is able to put aside his personal trauma and persuade Max to help Bigger. He represents the idealistic young Marxist who hopes to save the world through revolution. However, before he can do that, he must understand the 'negro' much more than he thinks he does.

6. Gus: Gus is a member of Bigger's gang, but he has an uneasy relationship with Bigger. Both are aware of the other's nervous anxiety concerning whites. Consequently, Bigger would rather brutalize Gus than admit he is scared to rob a white man.

7. Jack Harding: Jack is a member of Bigger's gang and perhaps the only one Bigger ever views as a real friend.

8. G.H.:
G.H. is another member of Bigger's gang. He is the neutral member of the gang who will
do what the gang does, but will not be too closely attached to any one member of the gang.

9. Mr. Boris Max: A lawyer from the Communist Party who represents Bigger against the State's prosecuting attorney. As a Jewish American, he is in a position to understand Bigger. It is through his speech during the trial that Wright reveals the greater moral and political implications of Bigger Thomas' life. Even though Mr. Max is the only one who understands Bigger, Bigger still horrifies him by displaying just how damaged white society has made him. When Mr. Max finally leaves Bigger he is aghast at the extent of the brutality of racism in America. The third part of the novel called Fate seems to focus on Max's relationship with Bigger, and because of this Max becomes the main character of Fate.

10. Bessie Mears: She is Bigger's girlfriend. She drinks often, saying she is trying to forget her hard life. At the end of Book 2, Bigger takes her to an abandoned building and, while there, rapes her, then proceeds to kill her in haste to keep her from talking to the police. This is his second murder in the book

11. Peggy: Peggy is the Daltons' Irish-American housekeeper and, like Max, can empathize with Bigger's status as an "outsider". However, she is more typical of poor whites who are sure to invest in racism if only to keep someone / anyone below themselves. Peggy hides her dislike for blacks and treats Bigger nicely.

12. Buddy Thomas:
Buddy, Bigger's younger brother, idolizes Bigger as a male role model. He defends him to the rest of the family and consistently asks if he can help Bigger.

13. Mrs. Thomas: Bigger's mother. She struggles to keep her family alive on the meager wages earned by taking in other people's laundry. She is a religious woman who believes she will be rewarded in an "afterlife", but as a black woman accepts that nothing can be done to improve her people's situation. Additionally, she knows Bigger will end up hanging from the "gallows" for his crime, but this isjust another fact of life.

14. Vera Thomas: Vera is Bigger's sister. In her Bigger sees many similarities to his mother. Bigger fears Vera will grow up to either be like his mother, constantly exhausted with the strain of supporting a family, or like Bessie, a drunk trying to escape her troubles.

15. Buckley: The state prosecutor.

16. Britten: The Daltons' investigator. He seems quite prejudiced, first towards Bigger (because
Bigger is black) and then towards Jan (because Jan is a Communist).