Racism & Injustice in Native Son: Quotes & Examples

Instructor: Crystal Hall

Crystal has a bachelor's degree in English, a certification in General Studies, and has assisted in teaching both middle and high school English.

Native Son by Richard Wright is a definitive work of literature that addresses racism and discrimination in Chicago during the 1930s and its impacts on both individual victims and society at large.

One Against the Many

Richard Wright wrote Native Son to call attention to the racial tension and discrimination that was prevalent in Chicago, Illinois during the 1930s. Bigger Thomas, a ''native son'' who is characterized as being a criminal due to the fact that he is both poor and black, has accidentally killed a white woman and then attempted to conceal her body from her parents, by whom he was employed at the time.

Although Mary Dalton's death was inadvertent, Bigger knows that the authorities will never believe him because of the color of his skin. During this period in Chicago, black people were assumed guilty with little chance of being proven innocent due to the racial tensions within 1930s society.

Bigger even finds himself in danger among his friends, with whom he becomes so argumentative that he is physically threatened by them.


Between the murder and Bigger's capture and subsequent incarceration, the novel contains many instances of racial discrimination; some are incidental and others are borne of a fear that has traveled from generation to generation, cementing itself into the minds and hearts of people who are treated as inferior simply due to the color of their skin.


Bigger, scared of robbing the white merchant, admits to himself that fear was the motivation behind the argument that he purposely started with his friend, Gus: ''The moment a situation became so that it excited something in him, he rebelled. That was the way he lived; he passed his days trying to defeat or gratify powerful impulses in a world he feared.''

While at Doc's pool hall, Bigger thinks about the meaning of being a black American and concludes that he killed Mary Dalton because he wanted to: ''Though he had killed by accident, not once did he feel the need to tell himself, that it had been an accident. He was black and he had been alone in the room where a white girl had been killed: therefore he had killed her. That was what everyone would say, anyhow, no matter what he said.''

Bigger attempts to justify his crime by telling himself that Mary Dalton made him kill her: ''To Bigger and his kind, white people were not really people; they were a sort of great natural force, like a stormy sky looming overhead or like a deep swirling river stretching suddenly at one's feet in the dark.''

Bessie is concerned for her association with Bigger after he confesses that he killed Mary Dalton: ''I just work. I'm black. I work and I don't bother nobody.''

After Bigger is jailed for his crime, he truly realizes just how the public hates him: ''Although he could not put it into words, he knew not only had they resolved to put him to death, but they were determined to make his death mean more than a mere punishment; that they regarded him as a figment of that black world which they feared and were anxious to keep under control.''

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