Native Son Essay Topics

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Richard Wright's ~'Native Son~' is an important work in American literature, dealing with themes such as race, politics, and coming of age. This lesson provides essay topics that will help your students think deeply about the novel.

Essays About Native Son

Are your students reading Richard Wright's Native Son? If so, you have a marvelous opportunity to talk with them about complex themes such as the impacts of racism and other forms of oppression on people's lives, what it means to exert power over another person, and the intricacy and sometimes hypocrisy of the justice system. One way to help your students think deeply and critically about this moving work is to have them write essays about the novel.

When students write literary essays, they articulate a strong point of view in their own voice and back it up using textual evidence. The essay topics in this lesson support practice with the writing process as well as critical thinking about Wright's work.

Topics About Characters

This section offers topics that will help students focus on the major characters in Native Son.

  • Write an essay analyzing Bigger Thomas' major character traits. What are the characteristics that make up his personality? What motivates his behavior and what feels most important to him in life?
  • Describe the relationship between Mary Dalton and Bigger Thomas, including how it evolves and changes over the course of the text. Show how they are similar to and different from each other and how these commonalities and differences impact their relationship.
  • Analyze the way that Mr. and Mrs. Dalton see themselves in juxtaposition to how Bigger Thomas sees them. Why do you think such a discrepancy in perspective exists, and what allows it to flourish?
  • Compare and contrast Bigger and Jan Erlone. How are they like and unlike each other, and how do they feel toward one another? Write about how these feelings impact their behavior toward one another as well as toward Mary.
  • What is the nature of the relationship between Bigger and Bessie? What about the relationship between Bigger and his mother? Analyze both of these relationships as a way of commenting on how Bigger thinks about and acts toward important women in his life.
  • How is Bigger like and unlike his siblings, Buddy and Vera? How do these similarities and differences affect the ways they live their lives?

Topics About Plot

Here, you will find essay topics designed to help your students understand the novel's plot and narrative arc.

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