Discuss how Bigger approaches both murders he commits in Native Son.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that both murders represent a great deal of similarity and simultaneous difference. Analyzing what brought both murders to fruition requires an analysis of why Bigger did what he did, or his motive, and then examining the exact nature of each murder.  I think that the motive of each is equally similar, yet different.  Bigger wanted to silence both women’s voices. His attempts to do so result in violent means of accomplishing that goal.  Mary’s murder was accidental suffocation, in that he wanted to keep her quiet so he would not be discovered as being with her.  Certainly, he did not mean to kill her, but his use of violence or physical means to ensure her silence resulted in her death.  Desiring to keep Bessie silent is what motivates Bigger to silence Bessie, yet this murder featured a motive of self preservation.  Bigger recognizes that Bessie is going to divulge his and her involvement in criminal activity.  In the attempt to ensure her silence, he kills her.  This intent is a bit different than what was involved in Mary’s murder.   On one hand, both are fairly brutal.  Bigger did not need much in way of weapons in order to kill both women.  At the same time, the fact that both murders are deliberate crimes against women is another factor that helps to add to the brutality of each. The sexual violation of Bessie prior to her death and then throwing her down a staircase is another version of the post- mortem gruesome brutality of Mary in stuffing her remains in the furnace.  In the end, Bigger shows that he lacks the vocabulary and the means to effectively articulate his helplessness that he feels in American society.  Murder, sex, and violence are the only means he is able to control, and while this does not excuse his actions, it widens the understanding around them.


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