The the hopelessness, repression, and social injustices

The
novel Native Son, written by author
Richard Wright is the story of a young black male living in the racially
segregated black belt community on the Southside of Chicago in the 1930’s. The
main character, Bigger Thomas, finds himself seeking an opportunity outside of
this community only to have it all go horribly wrong during a moment of panic,
which then sends his life into a downward spiral. The author brings into
question whether or not Bigger’s fate was a result of his own doing or if it
was predetermined by the fact that he is nothing more than a product of the
hopelessness, repression, and social injustices inflicted upon the African
American minorities in the United States during that period in history.

The main
character, Bigger Thomas, is depicted as a poor African American male who
struggles with all of the issues associated with life in the Black Belt. This
was until an opportunity presented itself in the form of a job offer with a
wealthy white family across town. This opportunity created some major inner
struggles for Bigger. More specifically, his under lying resentment towards the
white community that discriminated against himself and his community, but he
was also envious of their success and while fearful of their power. He
ultimately recognized that despite his internal struggles, this was an
opportunity to make something of himself and improve his disposition. Accepting
this new opportunity would allow him to get out of his current neighborhood and
all of the disadvantages that came with it. But, this opportunity did not come
without some well-founded concerns on his part. The family who provided Bigger
with this opportunity was strongly entrenched in the wealthy white community
across town, which was generally distrustful of the African American community
as whole. As a result, this struck fear in his heart over what his role might
be.

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In order
to analyze this novel, we must identify why Bigger committed the act of murder,
which is the main event that the story is centered around. When he was faced
with a life changing decision at his new job on the first day, Bigger responded
in the only way he deemed rational. As a result, Bigger Thomas accidentally
killed the Dalton’s daughter Mary, because he thought it was necessary in order
to protect himself and save his job. Biggers’ intent was never to kill Mary
when he used a pillow to smother her; he sought merely to silence her so as to
avoid having Mrs. Dalton detect his presence in the room. He was fully aware of
the potential repercussions of a black man in the bedroom of a young white
woman and being accused of something he hadn’t done. His experiences with
racial stereotyping had taught him to assume that because he was black and
alone in a room with an unconscious white girl he would immediately be accused
of rape. At the time of the murder, Bigger was not angry with, nor was he
intent on striking a blow for African American rights by sending a message
using the death of a white female at the hands of an African American male.
Later on in the novel, Bigger admits to his attorney that Mary’s behavior
toward him in fact made him hate her. At the same time, his hate for Mary is
not what caused him to smother her to death, it was simply a misguided attempt
to evade discovery by her mother.

How does society
discourage criminal behavior among its citizens? This is accomplished through
processes that are in intended to regulate behavior or social control. These
control measures are internal in the form of norms and values, and external in
the form of rewards and punishments. The author of Native Son utilizes this
social control theory extensively throughout this story with examples of how
crime and deviance played a major role in Biggers life and the overall
storyline. The social control theory unlike most criminology theories places
its focus on why people obey the laws and rules to conform to the generally
expected societal norms. Elizabeth Groff explains to us that, “As
people bump into one another, their familiarity with and liking for each other
increases… In this manner, norms emerge and strengthen over time” (Groff 94). The main elements that
constitute this conformity are tied to societal bond, attachment to others, commitment for following rules, involvement
by typical societal behaviors, and a belief in a basic value system.

In
general people obey the laws of the land based upon a fear of the consequences
of breaking said laws. An example of this concept plays out when Bigger
considers the consequences of committing a robbery with his friend. “They had always robbed “negroes”. They felt
it was much easier and safer to rob their own people, for they knew that white
policeman never really searched diligently for “negroes” who committed crimes
against other “Negroes” (Wright 23). He considered the costs and risks
associated with his potential deviant activity. Control theorists further
believe that criminal behavior is part of basic human nature and that all
humans have a tendency towards violence or criminal behavior. When an
individual’s bond with society is broken, the logical result will be criminal
activity. The less an individual believes that he or she should or is required
to obey society’s laws, the more likely he/she is to violate them. This example
lies in the next quote, “You’ll regret
how you living someday,” she went on. “If you don’t stop running with
that gang of yours and do right you’ll end up where you never thought you would”
(Wright.117). This is primary example of Bigger’s separation from his societal
bonds and a feeling that he did not fall within the bounds or normal confines
of society.

Another
important factor of the social control theory is the concept of free will. The
crucial question associated with free will is whether an individual has the
power to make a choice and whether his or her decision was inevitable and they
really could not have done otherwise. This point gains relevance in the Native
Son as Bigger was faced with a life changing choice when Mary’s mother entered
the room. Some might argue as Bigger might as well, that he lacked the
opportunity to exercise free will. Mary’s behavior, his situation, the social implications,
and the presence of Mary’s mother all left him the inevitable decision to
silence Mary. In fact, Bigger later in the book expresses that he even believes
Mary’s actions played a role and even contributed to her eventual demise. After
the commission of the murder, Bigger then began to consider the fact that he
had deviated from the social norms and the possibility of harsh treatment he
might receive from the white community and the judicial system. Given the
current societal standards, if was very reasonable for Bigger to assume that he
would be treated harshly and any assertion on his part of accidental
circumstances would most likely have been immediately dismissed by the judicial
system as well as public opinion. So that raises the question of whether in
fact if Bigger ever really had the ability to exercise his free will. While
Mary’s death was excessive and unnecessary, the fact that Bigger had to take
some action to avoid detection was most likely unavoidable. Bigger feared that
being a member of the African American lower class, his transgressions would
certainly be treated much more severely by the justice system automatically
regardless of the circumstances. As a result once Bigger identified his
predicament, his thought process resorted to that of basic survival instincts.
“She was dead and he had killed her. He
was a murderer, a Negro murderer, a black murderer. He had killed a white
woman. He had to get away from there.” (Wright, 87). His recognition that
his skin color compounded his existing problem was a key motivator in guiding
his actions when he was disposing of the evidence. But these actions only
served to further support the white community’s preconceived deviance traits of
the African American community. His actions in effect eliminated his ability to
utilize the truth, that it was an unintended and accidental event. No matter
what explanation he had, ultimately society will judge him harshly based upon
the color of his skin and that would always make him guilty.

Biggers
flight was also in part influenced by the overall lack of community resources
and material inequalities of the Black Belt area of Chicago at that time. The
Black Belt was a predominately African American impoverished area in Chicago’s
South Side. This segregated community was almost exclusively home to many of
the African American residents of Chicago during this time period. This area
was plagued with extreme overcrowding, dilapidated tenements, high rents, and
cramped “kitchenette” style apartments. In addition to these deplorable living
conditions, many of the African-American residents that were fortunate enough
to purchase homes were subjected to unfair and discriminatory practices. This
included housing covenants and redlining tactics by the local financial
lenders, who were largely owned and operated by the wealthy white community. “No white real estate man would rent a flat
to a black man other than in the sections where it had been decided that black
people might live.” (Wright.161). Also of note was the area’s high
unemployment rate, inadequate housing, extreme poverty, high crime rates, and
over-crowded conditions also contributed to an overall sense of frustration
among this African American community. The denial of basic rights and frequent
violent protests in nearby white neighborhoods played a major role in the
belief that these residents were second class citizens and less worthy than
their white counterparts.

Despite
a series of state laws that were passed during the late 1800’s to include an
1885 law against discrimination in public places, the of segregation of the
African American community remained rampant in the Black Belt area. More
importantly, in context with this analysis, it was common place in both belief
and practice that laws were rarely equally enforced. It was very common for
African American residents to be subjected to harsh penalties for offenses that
many white offenders would go completely uncharged. The African-American
community was a regular the target of harassment by the police and crimes
committed against them were an everyday occurrence. Ultimately, white racial
superiority was used to justify any act of violence or oppression taken against
the African American community.

Bigger
knew nothing but frustration his entire life. He often found himself frustrated
by being poor and that he was made to feel inferior simply because he was
black. He was also continually frustrated by his desire to be more and his
realization that those desires were largely unattainable. This also resulted in
a level of anger and at the same time fear of the white community. “Why had he come to take this goddamn job? He
could have stayed among his own people and escaped feeling this fear and hate”
(Wright, 15). Another example of this realization presents itself when Bigger
was talking with Gus about his dream of becoming a pilot. Gus’ response to
Bigger was, “If you wasn’t black and if
you had some money and if they’d let you go that aviation school, you could fly
a plane” (Wright, 17). This statement reinforces the assertion that what
the white community perceives the African American community to be, is more
powerful than what the African American community believes about themselves.
Inequality imposed upon the African American community was common place and
Bigger often found himself on the bottom end of these inequalities. There was a
very clear a visible difference between the white world and the black world in
Chicago.

The most
identifiable limitations or weaknesses of the control theory is that it that it
places too much importance on the bonds between an individual and society, and
does not effectively address self-determination and impulsiveness. Mary’s
death, I would argue was nothing more than a series of unfortunate and
accidental events, which were escalated by panic or impulsiveness. Bigger was
not seeking revenge, money, status, or power when Mary was killed. Rather, he
simply panicked and Mary’s death, while tragic, was far from intentional.
Bigger had no forethought or ill will in his actions that resulted in Mary’s
death. In fact, Mary’s death was the direct result of impulsiveness and an
overreaction by Bigger in the heat of the moment. Ultimately Bigger chose not
only his response but also the level of his response.

Another
specific flaw in this theory is that it places a high correlation between a
single parenting and criminal behaviors, it tends to ignore the fact that this
family dynamic does not automatically lead to individuals becoming criminals.
There many examples of single parent homes that produce law abiding and
productive citizens who never consider engaging in deviant behavior. One cannot
simply ignore the many other outside factors such a peer or group pressure that
can play a significant role in which path people chose to take. In Biggers
world deviant behavior is considered more of the social norm, if a person is
raised in and around a community that the majority finds it morally acceptable
to break the law, then members of that society will not be persuaded to avoid
being labeled with these deviant behaviors.

In
conclusion, the reader is most likely moved to feeling empathy for Bigger as a
result of all of the cards being against him and the belief that no one will
ever believe the true sequence of events. Bigger was driven to his actions by
fear that if were discovered that at a minimum he would lose his job and be
back to his old life. As a result, convinced himself that he was morally
justified in his actions. Bigger’s understanding of the societal implication of
his actions was in fact accurate and he in fact would face severe repercussions
regardless of his decisions or actions on that day. His racial and social
economic position in the community most certainly would have negatively
contributed to his fate. The author asks the question of whether it is fair to
condemn someone that was created by their environment.

While
Bigger eventually felt remorse for Mary’s death, he still failed to see the
error in his decisions or deeds. While this is tragic sequence of events, we
cannot allow those feelings to excuse his actions and damage that resulted from
those actions. Bigger, in fact, took an innocent life and as such should be
held accountable. Furthermore, the motivation in this case does not outweigh
the results of his actions.

The
judicial system needs to act accordingly in the blind in this case and judge
the act itself rather than the man and any of the prejudices that were thrust
upon him by the color of his skin. If a person commits the crime, they must be
obligated to suffer its consequences regardless of whatever advantages or
disadvantages they may have been afforded in their development. Ultimately it
comes down to a choice and living with the consequences be it good or bad of
your decision. Individuals make choices about deviance based on costs and
benefits to themselves in the form of positive rewards for socially approved
behaviors and negative costs for breaking the social norms. Social control
occurs only works when costs of deviance outweigh or are higher than rewards.