Native Son

Pdf fan
Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Bessie 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 life is ruined. Bigger later rapes and murders Bessie, fearing that she will tell the authorities of Bigger’s guilt; Bessie’s body is found by the police and exhibited at the inquest, causing Bigger to faint out of shock.

Bessie Quotes in Native Son

The Native Son quotes below are all either spoken by Bessie or refer to Bessie . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper Perennial edition of Native Son published in 1993.
Book 2 Quotes

A woman was a dangerous burden when a man was running away. He had read of how men had been caught because of women, and he did not want that to happen to him. But, if, yes, but if he told her, yes, just enough to get her to work with him?

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas, Bessie
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

On the one hand, Bigger knows that Bessie will support him, that she cares for him and - most importantly, in his mind - that she is afraid of him. Bessie seems to sense that, for Bigger, there is an anger welling up inside, a hatred of oppressive white populations and also of people more generally. Bessie knows that Bigger is capable of violence, perhaps even horrible violence.

Thus, when Bigger tells Bessie part of the truth, that he wishes to take a ransom for Mary and Jan, Bessie feels that there is little she can do. She is worried that, if she opposes Bigger, he will try to harm her. And she perhaps senses that Bigger is not being totally honest with her, that he is only tell her a part of the story. Bessie, even more so than Bigger, is hemmed in - unable to make a free choice. She can only do what she must do in order to survive.  

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Native Son quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

Yeah; I killed the girl . . . Now, you know. You’ve got to help me. You in it as deep as me! You done spent some of the money . . . .

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas (speaker), Mary Dalton , Bessie
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

Bessie might have spent some of the money that Bigger stole, and in this sense she is complicit with a very small part of Bigger's crime, but she was also forced to do these things - forced to help Bigger, with the implicit threat that, if she did not, he would harm her. Bessie has had little freedom to speak of throughout the novel, which is why she's gone along with Bigger in the first place - and now, Bigger uses this to ensnare her further. 

Bessie and Mary, in this sense, are both victims of Bigger's wrath, even before Bessie dies. Because of her race and class, Bigger knows that he can manipulate Bessie in ways he could not manipulate Mary - but Bigger asserted power over Mary anyway, through physical force at least. Even though Mary's death derived from a sense only of self-preservation, Bigger nevertheless sees himself, by this stage of the novel, as someone who is willing to kill again in order to save his own life. 

Book 3 Quotes

NEGRO KILLER SIGNS CONFESSIONS FOR TWO MURDERS. SHRINKS AT INQUEST WHEN CONFRONTED WITH BODY OF SLAIN GIRL. ARRAIGNED TOMORROW. REDS TAKE CHARGE OF KILLER’S DEFENSE. NOT GUILTY PLEAS LIKELY.

Related Characters: Bigger Thomas, Mary Dalton , Bessie
Page Number: 341
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an example of the kinds of headlines that the narrator and novelist imagine for Bigger's trial. It is obvious that Bigger is not afforded any kind of fair trial in the press - after all, he is a "killer" and not an "alleged killer" right in the headline, and the reporting of his dismay at the sight of the girl's body seems to show that, though he was capable of doing what he did, he is no longer capable of facing up to it. This, the newspapermen believe, is a sign of Bigger's underlying cowardice.

For the media and many parts of the white Chicago community at large, Bigger's trial is a means of placing further blame on African American populations. Crime, according to these mainstream white viewpoints, is a black problem because African American families do not care to protect their neighborhoods, or because criminality is somehow "inherent" to them. The newspaper thus does all it can to fan the flames of racial hatred in the city. 

Speaking for the grief-stricken families of Mary Dalton and Bessie Mears, and for the People of the State of Illinois, thousands of whom are massed out beyond that window waiting for the law to take its course, I say that no such quibbling, no such trickery shall pervert this Court and cheat this law!

Related Characters: Buckley (speaker), Mary Dalton , Bessie
Page Number: 374
Explanation and Analysis:

Buckley, the prosecutor, does what he can to make it seem that he must prosecute aggressively, and ask for the death penalty against Bigger, because the "community" (meaning the white community in Chicago) will rest for nothing less. This, by implication, means that the white community might feel it necessary to take justice into its own hands if Bigger is not sentenced to death. This threat of extra-legal violence is a chilling one, and is a sign that the nature of violence in a racially-polarized society, like Chicago at this time, does not operate equally. Members of white society are more or less allowed to threaten certain members of black society with violence outside the legal system, and without consequences - assuming that the legal system does not step in first to put Bigger to death. Buckley's words are chilling ones, and they are calculated to make the jury feel obligated to vote for execution, so that Bigger gets what white Chicagoans (essentially, bowing to racist mob rule) feel to be his just punishment. 

Get the entire Native Son LitChart as a printable PDF.
Native son.pdf.medium

Bessie Character Timeline in Native Son

The timeline below shows where the character Bessie appears in Native Son. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
...buy him fried chicken and beer. Bigger assents to this, and Bigger notices his “girl,” Bessie, sitting on the other side of the diner—he does not wave to her, but they... (full context)
Book 2
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
...prepares breakfast for the family, and as she is doing so, Buddy tells Bigger that Bessie came by their apartment the night before, telling Bigger’s family that she saw Bigger at... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger decides that he will take the afternoon and visit with Bessie, his girlfriend, whom he glanced briefly the night before at Ernie’s. He rides a streetcar... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger arrives at Bessie’s small, squalid apartment, and greets her cheerfully. Bessie does not know “what’s gotten into” Bigger,... (full context)
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bessie is alarmed at the sight of all this cash, and asks Bigger several times where... (full context)
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bessie continues to ask Bigger about the nature of what he’s been up to, and Bigger... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger decides, on the fly, to tell Bessie a half-true version of what has happened to Mary. He says that Mary has eloped... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger and Bessie leave the bar; Bessie is worried about the plan, since it is so obviously illegal,... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
...gruffly asks for some paper, a pencil, and an envelope, then rides the tram-car to Bessie’s apartment, remarking along the way that Mr. Dalton’s company owns the apartment house in which... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
...following evening at midnight, in small bills, to a stretch of Michigan Avenue on which Bessie will be stationed, in an abandoned apartment—when the car sees a flashlight shine three times,... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bessie comes up to Bigger after he finishes the note, asking once again where Mary is,... (full context)
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
They leave Bessie’s apartment and head to Michigan Avenue; Bigger has brought a flashlight along, and they duck... (full context)
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger gets Bessie, finally and grudgingly, to agree to wait for the “drop-off” of the money the following... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
...but he also realizes that he still has his gun. He begins to walk to Bessie’s house. (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
On his way to a tram-stop, which will take him to Bessie’s, Bigger stops at a kiosk and buys a copy of a newspaper, in which he... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger tells Bessie everything—that he truly did kill Mary, and that the reporters found her body in the... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger and Bessie leave Bessie’s apartment and walk outside for several blocks, until they find a different abandoned... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
...air-shaft once again and thinks about his murder of Mary and his current situation with Bessie—he worries to himself that Bessie will not be able to keep quiet and go along... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger holds the brick above Bessie’s head and hesitates for a moment, wondering if he can kill again, but soon this... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Bigger dumps Bessie’s body down the air-shaft, only to realize, after he’s done so, that Bessie had Bigger’s... (full context)
Book 3
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
Buckley asks Bigger where Bessie is, and tells Bigger he knows that Bigger raped and killed Bessie. Buckley tries to... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
...begins narrating exactly what happened on the night in question, including Mary’s murder and then Bessie’s the next night. The secretary takes it all down, and Bigger signs it. The secretary... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
...the trial, he finds it necessary to bring into the courtroom the mutilated body of Bessie, about whom Bigger has thought very little since her murder. Max and Bigger are both... (full context)
Whiteness, Blackness, and Racism Theme Icon
Capitalism and Communism Theme Icon
Crime and Justice Theme Icon
Anger and Charity Theme Icon
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Theme Icon
...would mean that the court avoided mere vengeance and still delivered justice to Mary’s and Bessie’s families and to the city of Chicago. But sending Bigger to prison would also indicate... (full context)