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Free Barron's Booknotes-Native Son by Richard Wright-Free Online Summary
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1. A

2. A

3. B

4. C

5. B

6. C

7. B

8. B

9. A

10. B

11. If you wish to emphasize Wright's critique of religion, you can point to Bigger's comparison of his mother's religion to Bessie's alcohol. Bigger comes to see religion, like whiskey, as an escapist response to victimization. Note that Reverend Hammond, a representative of religious sentiments, even objects when Jan urges Bigger to try to save his life. And Bigger's rejection of Reverend Hammond's cross seems to be a step toward his self-affirmation at the novel's end.

But you do not necessarily have to assume that Bigger's views are those of the author. Mrs. Thomas is a decent woman who tries hard to keep her family together. And Reverend Hammond shows no signs of being vicious or intolerant. You may want to claim that Max, rather than Bigger, speaks for the novel as a whole. In this way you could argue that the novel neither indicts nor endorses religion, but merely presents it as a fact of black community life.

12. You may want to point out the ways in which Wright emphasizes the horrors of violence. If he wanted to endorse violence, why would he dwell on images of Mary's decapitation, for example? The only deliberate act of violence is the killing of Bessie, and Wright shows this act to have been both brutal and futile. Mary's death was an accident, and it leads to Bigger's capture and execution. Moreover, Max, who may be speaking for Wright, sees Bigger's violence as a product of society's violence but not as a morally justifiable act.

On the other hand, Bigger affirms his killings at the end of the novel. And the killings seem to have been part of a process that finally enables him to reach out to Max and Jan. You can point to the way in which Wright shows Bigger gaining a new self-confidence, a sense of freedom, and insight into the world in the wake of his killing Mary. While you may not be able to argue convincingly that the novel actually endorses violence, you can make a case that it doesn't condemn violence in circumstances such as Bigger's.

13. You can maintain that the principal concern of Native Son is to portray the oppressiveness of society's institutions in a convincingly realistic manner. For example, use the section of Book Two in which Bigger is fleeing the police. In the midst of this desperate human drama, Wright finds ways of describing Chicago's discriminatory housing practices and other social abuses. Bessie's character allows him to portray the effects of low-paid domestic work. Book Three presents an even more detailed attack on racism in Max's questions and speeches.

But you can use much of the novel's imagery to argue that Wright is creating an intense nightmare, a fantasy of black rage and vengeance. His emphasis on the fiery heat of the furnace, his use of the symbolic blizzard, and his creation of the white cat as a guilt symbol are devices you can point to if you want to make a case that social realism is not the novel's main purpose.

14. To argue that Max and Jan are not convincing characters, emphasize their implausibly perfect goodness. For example, you can point to Jan's ready willingness to forgive the brutal murderer of his girlfriend and even to find him a lawyer. Max barely seems to exist outside the courtroom. Moreover, you can claim that his courtroom speeches are not the ones a lawyer defending his client would be likely to make. Why would he berate the aging father of a murdered daughter? This behavior is better explained by the fact that Wright created Max as a spokesman for his political and social views.

On the other hand, you may want to point to Jan's behavior with Bigger and Mary as evidence that he is not perfect at all. Following this reasoning, you can argue that Wright makes Jan a fairly complex personality whose unconsciously racist conduct undermines his good intentions. And you can excuse Jan's change of heart at the end by saying that it would have seemed much more plausible if Wright had been able to depart from Bigger's point of view and show readers Jan's internal struggle. As for Max, you can point to his confusion during his final conversation with Bigger as evidence that he too is imperfect and not merely. a spokesman for Wright's politics. You can also claim that his courtroom argument becomes more plausible when one realizes that Max is making it to a judge and not to a more emotionally impressionable jury.

15. Among the institutions discussed in Native Son you may want to mention are the press, the cinema, the courts, the electoral system, the real estate industry, the church, boys' clubs, the small white businesses that operate in the black ghetto, and the system of charity. For Wright's critique of the press, examine the reporters who gather at the Daltons' in Book Two and the newspaper accounts of Bigger's case in Books Two and Three. Wright criticizes the cinema in his description of the grossly distorted films Bigger and Jack see in Book One. Book Three portrays a judicial system that seems to have condemned Bigger to death from the start. Note especially the coroner's behavior at the inquest and the judge's refusal to deliberate for more than an hour. The ability of a liar and hypocrite like Buckley to get elected may be an implicit critique of the electoral system. Wright criticizes Mr. Dalton and his real estate practices, most pointedly in the inquest scene of Book Three. Dalton's practice of giving charity to boys' clubs while forcing blacks to pay higher rents than whites seems to indict the philanthropy of rich whites. And Bigger mentions that his gang planned their robberies at the boys' clubs. During his flight, Bigger observes that businesses in the ghetto always charge more than those in white neighborhoods. Finally, reread the answer to question 11, for evidence of Wright's critique of religion.

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