Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 480
Book One: Fear
1. Compare and contrast Bigger’s attitude toward the world around him with Mrs. Thomas’.
2. Bigger and his friends discuss the choices in life available to whites, as opposed to those available to African Americans. They also “play white,” a game they have invented. In light of the interaction that takes place on these pages, what does “freedom of choice” mean to Bigger, and how important is it to him?
3. Mr. Dalton and Jan Erlone both profess to be friendly toward African Americans, yet they are hostile to each other. Compare and contrast their attitudes toward African Americans and explain their mutual hostility.
4. Discuss Bigger’s reasoning for stifling Mary’s moans, rather than simply admitting to Mrs. Dalton that he had to help her daughter upstairs because she was drunk.
Book Two: Flight
1. Bigger has killed Mary accidentally, yet he soon convinces himself that what he has done was no accident, and that it was right and natural. He even feels a sense of elation about it. Discuss the reasons that lead him to feel this way.
2. Describe some of the many ways in which Bessie Mears, Bigger’s girlfriend, is trapped in a life that is not of her own choosing.
3. Mr. Dalton’s private investigator, Mr. Britten, alternately expresses his hatred of African Americans and of Communists. After he interrogates Bigger, he thinks to himself that “Britten was familiar to him; he had met a thousand Brittens in his life.” What is it about Britten’s thinking that makes him so easy for Bigger to understand, and how does Bigger intend to use Britten’s prejudices to his own advantage?
4. Describe the way in which Bigger is hunted down after he has fled the Dalton home. How would this manhunt have been different if Bigger were white?
Book Three: Fate
1. To further serve the realism of his novel, the author has adapted many actual articles about a real case similar to Bigger’s, which appeared in Chicago newspapers. What is most noticeable about these articles, and by including them, what is the author saying about the role of the press in American society?
2. In a long and dramatic scene, a total of twelve people are brought into Bigger’s cell. In “How ‘Bigger’ Was Born,” Richard Wright admitted that this scene was not strictly realistic. Discuss the scene, and how it serves the novel’s artistic aims, despite its being physically improbable.
3. In light of his confrontation with Reverend Hammond, and his conversation with Boris Max, discuss Bigger’s attitude toward Christianity. How do Bigger’s views compare with those of his mother’s and of Jan Erlone’s?
4. In Book Three: Fate, Bigger has two very important conversations with Boris Max. Describe what these conversations mean to Bigger, and suggest an explanation for the final, disturbing thoughts he expresses to Max about his crimes.