Native Son Book 1: Fear Summary and Analysis
by Richard Wright

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Book 1: Fear Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Bigger Thomas: the protagonist; a poor, 20-year-old African American

Mrs. Thomas: Bigger’s mother

Buddy Thomas: Bigger’s younger brother

Vera Thomas: Bigger’s younger sister

Gus, G.H., and Jack Harding: Bigger’s poolroom friends

Doc: owner of the poolroom

Bessie Mears: Bigger’s girlfriend

Henry G. Dalton: white Chicago millionaire and Bigger’s employer

Mrs. Dalton: Henry Dalton’s blind wife

Mary Dalton: Henry Dalton’s 23-year-old daughter

Peggy O’Flagherty: the Daltons’ Irish cook and housekeeper

Mrs. Patterson: Mrs. Dalton’s maid

Jan Erlone: Mary Dalton’s Communist boyfriend

David A. Buckley: Illinois state’s attorney, who is up for reelection

It is winter in Chicago during the Depression in the late 1930s. The Thomas family awakens in their one room tenement apartment in the South Side ghetto. At once, Bigger Thomas’ mother and sister spy a large rat scurrying around the floor. Responding to their fearful cries, Bigger repeatedly tries to kill the rat with an iron skillet, finally succeeding on the third try. Bigger then taunts his sister Vera with the bloody carcass, causing her to faint. Bigger’s mother scolds her son for his cruelty and insensitivity, and reveals that the family is on relief (welfare). The relief agency has offered Bigger a job, and has threatened to cut off the family’s food benefit if Bigger does not accept it. Reluctantly, Bigger agrees to see Mr. Dalton, his prospective employer, about the job.

Bigger then proceeds to his hangout, a nearby poolroom, to meet his friends, Gus, G.H., and Jack. For months Bigger and his friends have been planning to rob Blum’s, a local delicatessen, but all are scared to do it because the owner is white. Rather than admit his own fears, Bigger taunts Gus, accusing him of cowardice, secretly hoping that he will back out, and so ruin the plan. Gus does not back out, however, and a tense agreement is reached to meet back at the poolroom at 3 p.m.

Bigger and Jack leave the poolroom and go to a movie theater, where they masturbate in the darkness, before the show begins. The first picture is a newsreel about “debutantes”, rich, unmarried young society girls, vacationing in Florida. Mary Dalton, Mr. Dalton’s daughter, is featured in the film, and as Bigger and Jack ogle her cavorting on the beach in a bathing suit, they learn that she has recently scandalized her parents by taking a communist for a boyfriend. After viewing Trader Horn, a sensational film about Africa, Bigger and Jack part to fetch their guns for the planned robbery, and then both meet G.H. at the poolroom. While Gus is not late, he arrives last, and Bigger pounces on him at once. Again, Bigger projects his own fears of robbing a white man onto Gus, and viciously attacks his friend, knife in hand. Gus manages to flee, and the plan is ruined. G.H. tells Bigger, “I reckon that is what you wanted.” Doc, the poolroom owner, throws Bigger out.

Later, Bigger proceeds to his job interview, taking a streetcar to the rich, white neighborhood where the Daltons live. He takes his gun along, deciding it will make him feel safe. He is greeted by the Daltons’ cook and housekeeper, Peggy O’Flagherty, and soon encounters Mr. Dalton and his frail, blind wife. Bigger is nervous and fidgety as Mr. Dalton questions him about his past. It is revealed that Bigger has been in reform school for stealing tires, but Mr. Dalton offers him the job of family chauffeur anyway, at the ample salary of $25 per week, plus room and board.

Bigger accepts the job, and just then Mary Dalton appears, and immediately starts talking about how Bigger should be in a union. Her naive political remarks make Bigger fearful that he will lose his job. After Mary leaves, Mr. Dalton informs Bigger that he is a supporter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), a moderate organization dedicated to improving the status of African Americans. Bigger later learns from Peggy...

(The entire section is 3,159 words.)