How are poverty and struggle explored in Native Son?

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The themes of poverty and struggle are explored in Native Son by means of the story of a poor black man who inadvertently murders a wealthy white woman and then attempts to hide from the consequences of his actions.

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It is due to poverty and his family's ongoing struggle for survival that Bigger ends up becoming an accidental murderer. I would also argue that race and racism are highly prevalent themes in this story, because things would have ended very different if Bigger had not been black. This is not, however, to say that Bigger was any kind of saint.

Poverty and struggle come to the fore right at the beginning of the story. Bigger is coerced into accepting a job working for the wealthy Henry Dalton. He takes the job because his mother tells him that if he does not, the family will not be able to eat.

The themes of struggle and race are further enhanced by Bigger's difficulty in crossing the social and ethnic boundaries between himself and Mary Dalton and her boyfriend. After Bigger murders Mary and part of her body is discovered by a reporter, Bigger goes on the run. This, I would argue, comes down to race. A white man in the 1930s would have been given a chance to tell his side of the story, but not a black man.

The theme of poverty continues to prevail in book 2, since it is purely as a result of poverty that Bigger and his girlfriend, Bessie, attempt to extort a ransom from the Dalton family. When this plan goes awry, he murders Bessie. This has nothing to do with poverty or struggle—it is simply a result of Bigger's desire to stay out of prison.

While poverty and struggle are pivotal themes, the ending reveals that Bigger has lost his humanity somewhere along the line.

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In what ways are poverty and the struggle to make a living explored in Native Son?

The opening scene of Native Son is a harsh depiction of poverty in urban America. Bigger Thomas, his mother, his sister, and his brother all live in a cramped flat that makes privacy and comfort impossible. The building is rat-infested. Eventually it's revealed that Mr. Dalton, the wealthy man for whom Bigger goes to work, is the owner of this and other deteriorating properties on the South Side. Despite Dalton's humanitarian pretensions, he does nothing to improve the living conditions of those who are tenants of his realty company.

Bigger's going to work for the Daltons is ironic. It's a realistic attempt to provide an income for himself and his family, but the dysfunctional situation between poor and rich and Black and White leads to catastrophe. The racial dynamic of America is both a counterpart and an intensified form of the economic disparity in a polarized urban world. The condescending (though apparently well-meaning) behavior of the Daltons and Jan, Mary Dalton's boyfriend, serves only to alienate Bigger further.

When Bigger returns home, his mother immediately asks how much the Daltons are paying him. He answers, simply, "Twenty." At the time, $20 a week was actually not the worst wages a laborer could get, so Bigger's situation, assuming the tragic events of the previous night hadn't occurred, would have been a relatively hopeful one. But the gross disparity between families such as the Thomases, living in the ghetto, and the Daltons is emblematic of an ongoing injustice not only in America but in other societies as well, even those in which race might not be a factor. Bigger's attempt to extort money from the Daltons, claiming Mary has been kidnapped, is a desperate attempt to break free of the poverty he has been subjected to.

The effects of that poverty are such that they drive a young man to commit a criminal act while knowing it's something he probably won't get away with. Even the small hope his family had for escaping their environment is destroyed by Bigger's crime. His sister had been attending sewing classes, but now that Bigger has become known as a man having committed a heinous crime, she's unable to continue going to school. In jail, Bigger tells his mother, "Forget me, Ma." The Thomas family ultimately is destroyed by the poverty that is endemic to a racist and class-governed society.

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