Why did the author choose "Bigger" as the name of the protagonist in Native Son?

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Some scholars have suggested Wright gave him this name because of its similarity in sound to the n-word. There is no way of verifying this, but if this was indeed the reason for his choice, it suggests that Wright sees Bigger as representing the stereotype of the African-American male which...

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Some scholars have suggested Wright gave him this name because of its similarity in sound to the n-word. There is no way of verifying this, but if this was indeed the reason for his choice, it suggests that Wright sees Bigger as representing the stereotype of the African-American male which the oppressive white society has created. In his introductory essay to the novel, Wright indicates that he has, throughout his life, seen many "Biggers"—black men who openly defied the racist system but often committed criminal acts in doing so. Such men conformed to the bigoted thoughts and fears of the white majority; tragically, so does Bigger in Native Son.

Though the act of killing Mary Dalton is basically accidental, it is the result, in this case, of a black man being placed in a situation he cannot control. The behavior of both Mary and Jan to Bigger, while ostensibly well-meaning, is condescending and insensitive, and it arouses Bigger's resentment instead of his friendship. Bigger's actions after the killing of Mary—including the rape and murder of his own girlfriend, Bessie—seem only to confirm the whites's stereotypes and prejudices against those whom they typically label with the n-word. Bigger's name is therefore a kind of metaphor for the image which white people have created of the African American and which becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in the catastrophic outcome of the story.

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Richard Wright wrote an extensive essay entitiled "How Bigger Was Born," but he never touches upon the subject of this unusual first name. The suggestion, though, is two-fold:

1) 'Bigger', the comparative form of 'big,' implies the maturation of the growing child into adulthood; it also suggests a situation which cannot be self-contained because it 'grows.'  In Bigger's  case, an urban child deprived of normal self-estime grows into a kind of destructive monster. In a Frankensteinish way, Bigger the criminal is a product of society more than a person fashioned by his own will.

2) 'Bigger' suggests the perjorative racist insult "Nigger." Bigger can't get away from prejudice and deprivation any more than he can get away from himself. Here is depreciation rather than augmentation (as in no. 1); both are aspects of the same problem. An interesting sidenote: "Denegration" -etymologically speaking- means "being treated as a Negro." May the term speak for itself....

There is a rather lengthy but interesting essay on "the making of" Bigger as the novel's protagonist at the following reference. It is well worth the read - enjoy!

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