Thursday, April 6, 2006

Native Son

I really enjoyed this book. I was a little worried, of course, because it’s known as quite as sensational book, and purportedly purposefully. I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf since high school. I remember talking to my English teacher at the time about it, asking if she had read it. She told me that she didn’t read things that were written purely for the controversy they would cause. Whether that’s true or not about this book, I don’t know. I believe it was James Baldwin who wrote a damning piece about Wright’s novel, stating that he fed into stereotypes about black people that probably shouldn’t be perpetuated.

I have a tendency to read not so exciting books – not in the sense of “not good” but just not with a lot of action, so this book kept my attention, particuarly in the first half. I knew, however, starting out what Bigger Thomas was going to do, and the outcome of those actions is pretty predictable. But I often find that knowing the outcome of a story will make it more intreguing (and less annoying – I’m someone who hates surprises!) because rather than wondering what is going to happen, I’m wondering how. Anyhoo, I thought that it was good.

I was particularly interested in certain social commentaries that are added to the narrative: Mr. Dalton appears to be the wonderful philanthropist, giving money to black causes and hiring black labrorers, donating ping pong tables to boys clubs on the South Side of Chicago (where the novel takes place), etc. But what is the use of all that when we find that he is the owner of a major real estate company that not only refuses to rent apartments to blacks outside of the “designated area” so to speak, but he also charges ridiculous rents for the apartments in the south side which are basically rodent infested fire traps. Though Mr. Dalton and his wife are dedicated to having their “Negro” laborers get an education, they then do not hire them after they are educated. The second commentary that I found thought-provoking was at the inquest for Mary Dalton’s murder. They use Bessie’s body as evidence. Nobody cares that he killed Bessie (who was black), except for how they can use her body and death to show Bigger’s guilt in the murder of Mary (who was white). Sometimes, particular points or scenes from novels stay with you for a lifetime, and I feel that those will be two that will remain with me.

I thought the last part of the novel (“Fate”) was a little drawn out, but while that might bother me in other books, for some reason it didn’t bother me with this one. I suppose I felt that the speeches fit the narrative, and the action in the first two parts was balanced out by the lull in the end.

I did tear up a bit in the end when Bigger is sitting in his cell thinking about how he is going to die (this was before Max visited him). Even though Bigger really was despicable, it somehow made me a little sad. I was glad, though, that the story ended when Max left. I really didn’t want to read about Bigger being led to the electric chair (images of “The Green Mile” came to mind…along with how ill that movie made me).

All in all – good.