Native Son

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Bigger Thomas

The novel’s protagonist, Bigger is involved with a gang at the beginning of the novel, but his run-ins with the law, and his illegal activities, are minimal. Nevertheless Bigger is defined by his rage: against… (read full character analysis)

Buddy Thomas

Bigger’s brother, Buddy tends to take Bigger’s side when Vera and Ma tell Bigger he must find a job. Buddy, younger than Bigger, looks up to his older brother, and, after Bigger’s arrest, Buddy even… (read full character analysis)

Mr. Dalton

Father of Mary and Bigger’s employer, Mr. Dalton is a wealthy real-estate magnate in the South Side of Chicago, and his company owns the apartment building in which Bigger and his family live. Mr. Dalton… (read full character analysis)

Mrs. Dalton

Mrs. Dalton, like her husband Henry, believes that the Dalton family is helping African Americans in Chicago by offering them jobs and by donating to charities in the Black Belt. Mrs. Dalton’s physical blindness—she… (read full character analysis)

Mary Dalton

Daughter of the Daltons, Mary is driven by Bigger on the night of her murder, and the two of them pick up Jan—although Bigger does not want to socialize with Mary and Jan… (read full character analysis)
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A Communist active in Chicago, and Mary’s boyfriend, Jan meets up with Mary and Bigger the night of the murder, and does all he can to treat Bigger with kindness—although Bigger resents Jan’s attempts. Bigger… (read full character analysis)


Bigger’s defense attorney at his trial, Max is a Jewish-American Communist who believes that the oppressive white majority of Chicago does all it can to “keep down” people of color and members of trade unions… (read full character analysis)


The State’s Attorney and prosecutor of the case against Bigger, Buckley is very much a representative of the city’s ruling white majority—he calls Bigger an “ape” and a “savage,” and makes it… (read full character analysis)


Bigger’s girlfriend, Bessie tends to go along with what Bigger wants, although when Bigger asks her to help generate a ransom from the supposed “kidnapping” of Mary, Bessie breaks down and worries that her… (read full character analysis)

The preacher

An African-American preacher from the Black Belt, the preacher, named Hammond, does all he can to convince Bigger that he will receive salvation for his crimes only in the next life. But after Bigger sees… (read full character analysis)

Deputy coroner

The man presiding over the inquest, in front of the grand jury, the deputy coroner insists that Bessie’s body be laid out before Bigger and the remainder of the group assembled. Max objects that this… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
Ma Thomas
Bigger’s mother, Ma does her best to keep the family going—to feed her children, and to encourage them, namely Bigger and Vera, to help provide for the family. Ma Thomas is spiritually crushed by Bigger’s murder, and asks him, while in prison, to pray for his soul.
Vera Thomas
Bigger’s only sister, Vera takes classes at the local YWCA in order to become a seamstress. After Bigger’s imprisonment, Vera also tells Bigger he ought to pray for his soul and for redemption in the next life.
A member of Bigger’s gang, Gus comes up with the idea to rob Blum’s deli, at least initially, but has hesitations about it later on. Bigger takes out his frustration on Gus, choking and attacking him at Doc’s pool hall. Gus later visits Bigger in prison.
Another member of Bigger’s gang, G. H. says that he will go along with the robbery of Blum’s deli, but also seems somewhat sympathetic to Gus’s side—feeling, perhaps, afraid that the group will get caught if they rob a white man.
The third member of Bigger’s gang, Jack goes with Bigger to the movies on the supposed day of the Blum robbery, and watches, with Bigger, the news-reel starring Mary Dalton and Jan.
Owner of a deli in the South Side, Blum, a white man, is the target of a planned robbery executed by Bigger’s gang. The gang decides against robbing the deli, however, once Bigger attacks Gus and ruins the group’s sense of shared purpose.
Owner of a pool hall in the South Side, Doc seems, at first, to enjoy the company of the gang, but later kicks them all out of his bar after Bigger cuts up the green felt of the pool table with his knife.
The head maid of the Dalton house, Peggy is kind to Bigger, cooks for him, and shows him how to stoke the furnace. Peggy betrays very little suspicion of Bigger, even after Mary’s disappearance.
A private investigator hired by Mr. Dalton, Britten believes from the start that Bigger might have had something to do with Mary’s disappearance. He is later called by Buckley to appear at Bigger’s trial, and testifies as to his interactions with Bigger immediately after the murders.
A former employee of the Daltons’, and also from the Black Belt, Green, as Mrs. Dalton tells it, used some of his time and money during his employment at the Dalton home to get an education at night school.