Notes of a Native Son Questions and Answers
by James Baldwin

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Why does Baldwin title the essay what he does?

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The literary antecedents for much of James Baldwin's work are Richard Wright's books, the most famous of which is Native Son. This is true, though Baldwin and Wright had personal disagreements, and Baldwin was critical of Wright's portrayal of the African American experience. To understand why Baldwin regarded himself a "native son," however, we should look at the implications of Wright's use of the term as the title of his 1940 novel.

In Wright's Native Son the central character, Bigger Thomas, is a young man Wright depicts as emblematic of much of the African American experience. To be a "native son" is to be not only typical of those born in one's country, but to be, in some sense, a result or product of that country's inherent features. In the case of African Americans, that result, as Wright sees it, is the alienation of living in a society in which race...

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