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By using this lesson plan, educators will be able to guide their students through Native Son by Richard Wright. With your class, explore the motivations and conflicts of Wright's complex characters as well as his themes of racism, violence, and cruelty in 1930s America. Examples of guided discussion and study questions from this lesson plan include the following:
- Why do you think Wright included the scene with the sky-writing airplane in Native Son? He uses it to illustrate how the white man's world is unattainable to Bigger. Bigger sees the plane and comments that he would like to learn to fly, but that even the chance to try is denied him. The distant plane represents the distance between Bigger and the world of a decent job, home and life.
- Do Jan and Mary see Bigger as a man? No, they both believe in equality and freedom for all people, but they don't look at Bigger as an individual man; to them he is a Negro man, not just a man. Their treatment of Bigger, while superficially friendly, is actually very unkind. they can see that Bigger is uneasy around them, and yet they force him to stay in the front seat between them and to eat with them. They cannot see that Bigger is trapped by their desire to treat him nice just as he is trapped by other white people's desire to abuse him.
- How does Bigger respond to Britten's interrogation? For the first time in his life, Bigger reacts towards a white man by thinking instead of fearing. Notice in response to Britten's questions Bigger does not feel the burning heat of fear but remains calm and thoughtful. Bigger sticks to his story, and Britten comes away more interested in Jan, just as Bigger wants him to be.
- How does Bigger rationalize to himself that Mary and Bessie were responsible for their own deaths? He thinks both girls should have left him alone. Mary made him promise to keep her secret and she got drunk, so he had to be the one to take her upstairs. Bessie kept nagging him to tell her what was wrong, making him tell her more than she should have known. They both forced him into a position where he had to kill them, he thought.
- Why is Bessie's body put on exhibition at the inquest? The coroner wants to stir up hatred by showing the physical cruelty of which Bigger was capable. The fact that Bessie, a black woman, was killed was immaterial to them. Her body was used to help get a conviction against Bigger for killing a white woman.
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