The following paper topics are designed to encourage your understanding of the novel as a whole, and to help you analyze important themes and literary techniques. A sample outline is included with each topic, indicating one (but not the only) possible approach to it.
Alienation is a very important theme in Richard Wright’s novel. It is a concept that is also important in both Marxism and existentialism, two philosophies which Wright adopted and advocated during different periods in his life. One definition of alienation is that it is the condition in which all human beings are the creators of the wealth and culture of a society, but few are allowed to participate in the fruit of their creation. The majority are denied that enjoyment. Instead of controlling society, they are controlled by it. Instead of being or feeling included, they are excluded, or alienated. Discuss how Bigger’s life is a life alienated from American society.
I. Thesis Statement: The title of the novel, Native Son, refers to Bigger Thomas, and suggests that he is a native of the United States, that he belongs here. Yet Bigger’s experience is one in which he is everywhere denied his birthright and alienated from the society into which he has been born.
II. The conditions of Bigger’s life
A. Early life of poverty in segregated South.
B. Family fled north after father was killed.
C. In the North, he lives on welfare in one rat-infested tenement room with mother, brother, and sister.
D. Faces choice of a life of petty crime, or one of menial labor as a servant.
III. Institutionalized racism in the 1930s America
A. Segregated housing in North and South.
B. African Americans excluded from serving on juries, and from specialized training, such as would be required for Bigger to have become an aviator.
C. In the armed forces, African Americans confined to menial jobs.
IV. Bigger’s consciousness of his alienated condition
A. Sees an airplane and tells his friend “I could fly one of them things if I had a chance.”
B. Views newsreel of Mary Dalton in Florida, having a “vacation,” something he cannot have.
C. “Sees” his rat-infested tenement room as if for the first time, after seeing how the Daltons live.
D. States, in his first conversation with Max, that whites “own everything. They choke you off the face of the earth. They like God.…They don’t even let you feel what you want to feel. They after you so hot and hard you can only feel what they doing to you. They kill you before you die.”
Throughout the novel, Richard Wright uses blindness as a metaphor for unconsciousness and ignorance, and sight as a metaphor for consciousness and understanding. With examples from the text, illustrate Wright’s literary technique, and discuss Bigger’s development within the context of blindness and sight.
I. Thesis Statement: Literal and metaphorical references to “blindness” and “sight” abound in Native Son, and they give good indication of the relative consciousness or unconsciousness of many of the characters—especially Bigger—at any given point in time.
II. Examples of blindness and sight
A. Mrs. Dalton, who is literally and metaphorically blind, is herself a metaphor for the blind white power structure.
B. Bessie Mears’ transformation from self-admitted blindness to sight.
C. Jan Erlone’s transformation, which he conveys to Bigger in their meeting in Bigger’s cell.
D. Universal overview (absolute sight) in Boris Max’s speech.
III. Bigger’s blindness and sight
A. Bigger’s remarks to his friends about blacks and whites, and his frustation with his own lack of opportunity, indicate that he has sight early on.
B. The sense of power Bigger derives from killing momentarily...
(The entire section is 1626 words.)