In Native Son, how does Bigger transition from fear to flight?

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     After Bigger commits his crime, he begins to lose his fear of the white society that had, until then, always controlled him and held him down.  By murdering a white woman, Bigger feels that he has finally struck back at the white world that he has feared and hated.

     The author, Richard Wright, gives us a glimpse into Bigger's thoughts:

 The thought of what he had done, the awful horror of it...formed for him for the first time in his fear-ridden life a  barrier of protection between him and a world he feared.   He had murdered and had created a new life for himself.  It was something that was all his own, and its was the first time in his life he had had anything that others could not take from him.

     Although he knows that he must escape from punishment, Bigger feels that his destiny is -- for the first time in his life -- in his own hands:

As long as he moved carefully and knew what he was about, he could handle things...As long as he could take his life into his own hands and dispose of it as he pleased, as long as he could decide just when and where he would run to he need not be afraid.

     Perhaps this is why the author named the middle section of his book "Flight," rather than "Escape" or "Running Away."  Bigger imagines that he is rising and flying above the constraints that white society has always placed on him.

     Of course the sad truth is that Bigger will eventually meet his fate; that, of course, is the title of the third section of this novel.


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Bigger's ambition is to be a pilot, something he had never thought remotely possible. During his transformation in the novel, he realizes that he had the potential to accomplish much more then he had thought. Once he stopped fear from being his most poweful emotion, he realized flight may have been possible.

Of course, given Bigger's crimes, he will never really know what he was capable of.

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How does Bigger overcome fear in Native Son?

The tragedy of Bigger's story is that he has no outlet for overcoming his fear other than aggression and violence. In some ways, it's surprising that the first section of the book is titled "Fear" because this implies that this is the emotion governing Bigger's personality and actions. Bigger isn't afraid in a physical sense. His killing of the rat in the opening scene demonstrates this, though it's a trivial thing in itself. Bigger's fears are not physical, but psychological. At the bottom is his insecurity, a feeling of worthlessness that has been imposed upon him by the outside world for both racial and class reasons. Even among his friends, he feels a relentless need to prove himself, threatening them with his knife and slashing the baize covering of the billiard table. This is his means of distracting others from his own palpable sense of weakness and insecurity.

It would be simplistic to conclude that he overcomes fear by acting out violence. In the crucial episode in which he accidentally kills Mary, it is his fear of being discovered in the room with her that prompts him to silence her with the pillow. But Bigger's own insight later into his actions is that "he knew that in some sense the girl's death had not been accidental." Bigger realizes that his anger—both directed against others and against himself—has been expressed many times before. A sense of liberation comes to him as a result of the killing. Is it because he always has known that he's living on the outside, a cast-off of the system, and now there is a feeling of release coming from his crime? He no longer has to pretend to conform to the world's demands which have caused his state of fear to begin with.

Of course, the killing may have dispelled one kind of fear, but it created another. In spite of the ransom plan, Bigger probably realizes from the start that the police will catch up to him. The "Flight" section of the novel shows Bigger in a greater state of hopeless fear than in the relatively subdued actions that have occurred before his coming to the Dalton house results in catastrophe.

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