Native Son

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Jan Character Analysis

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 then implicitly blames Jan for Mary’s murder, hoping that authorities will be fooled, and although some believe that Jan might have “made a pact” with Bigger in order for Mary to be killed, Jan’s name is later cleared. Jan has his friend Max, a lawyer for the Communists, represent Bigger at his trial, and Bigger’s last words to Max, at the novel’s end, are to tell Jan that he says goodbye.

Jan Quotes in Native Son

The Native Son quotes below are all either spoken by Jan or refer to Jan . 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 1 Quotes

First of all . . . don’t say sir to me. I’ll call you Bigger and you’ll call me Jan. That’s the way it’ll be between us.

Related Characters: Jan (speaker), Bigger Thomas
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

Jan is an avowed communist, who works for the betterment of all people - so he says. He is involved with Mary Dalton, who, despite her family's enormous wealth and privilege (based on capitalistic success), has committed herself also to certain communist ideals - or at least to learning more about those ideals. Jan's and Mary's communist ideology, at this point in the novel, makes very little sense to Bigger.

This is, in a way, because Bigger lives the life that Jan and Mary study from the outside. Jan and Mary do not understand what it's like to grow up in a shabby tenement, without any privacy. They are educated, and they are afforded other privileges (beyond those of money) by being white, by moving in a society that is entirely removed from that of Bigger. For all this, however, their desire to get to know Bigger is genuine - even if, at base, they cannot really know him, and can only spend time with him and condescendingly project onto him what they think he is, and what his life is like. 

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Book 2 Quotes

You are a Communist, you goddamn black sonofabitch! And you’re going to tell me about Miss Dalton and that Jan bastard!

Related Characters: Britten (speaker), Bigger Thomas, Mary Dalton , Jan
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

Britten is the first person in the Dalton household, after the investigation formally begins, to sense that Bigger might somehow be involved in Mary's disappearance. Of course, everyone knows that Bigger was the hired chauffeur, driving the car that carried Mary and Jan. Suspicions fell initially on Jan, whose communist sympathies were enough to raise a red flag to the authorities. But now Britten notes that Bigger seems nervous, that he has trouble stating exactly what he was doing the two nights previous and explaining what he knows about Mary's disappearance. 

Britten, interestingly enough, however, pegs some of Bigger's guilt on the idea that he is a communist (and the rest on the fact that he is black). Of course, Bigger only knows a very small amount of what communism is, and this he knows from a brief conversation with Jan and Mary. He did not kill because he sought, according to communist ideals, to break down a system that was economically unfair. He killed simply because he wanted to avoid trouble - because he was afraid. But naturally Bigger does not confess any of these feelings to Britten. 

Book 3 Quotes

Bigger, I’ve never done anything against you and your people in my life. But I’m a white man and it would be asking too much to ask you not to hate me, when every white man you see hates you . . . .

Related Characters: Jan (speaker), Bigger Thomas
Page Number: 287
Explanation and Analysis:

Jan, for his part, seems immensely understanding at this juncture in the novel, even though Bigger has essentially tried to tell the authorities that Jan murdered Mary, or was at least responsible for her disappearance. Jan understands that the circumstances of Bigger's life have been difficult, far more difficult than he could ever imagine. In contrast to his behavior the night that Bigger killed Mary, Jan now seems more willing to speak to Bigger directly, man to man. He no longer sees Bigger as an abstract representation of what it means to be "black" in Chicago, or of what it means to be a "worker" in a city where so much wealth is concentrated in so small a part of the population. In one of the novel's grander ironies, it is only after Mary's death that many of the characters are able to understand themselves and one another - and it is a bitter, bitter irony, too, for it has come at an immensely steep cost in innocent human lives. 

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Jan Character Timeline in Native Son

The timeline below shows where the character Jan appears in Native Son. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
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...is to interview later that day; and her friend, a known Communist sympathizer, is named Jan. The newsreel is a kind of “popular” or human-interest story about the “outrageous” young Ms.... (full context)
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They arrive at an apartment in the outer Loop, and Jan, the man Mary was with in the news-reel Bigger saw earlier that day, comes out... (full context)
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Bigger is also confused and angry at Jan’s informality—paradoxically, Bigger feels even less comfortable in his skin, and with his blackness, since Jan... (full context)
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...amidst the poverty of the South Side. The car reaches Ernie’s, and Bigger believes that Jan and Mary will go inside to eat while Bigger remains in the Buick. But Jan... (full context)
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Jan asks Bigger what he likes to eat, and Jan offers, without listening to Bigger’s reply,... (full context)
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Jan then tells Bigger that he (Jan) is a member of the Communist party, with which... (full context)
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Bigger, Mary, and Jan are all fairly drunk from the significant amount of alcohol they’ve consumed while eating dinner.... (full context)
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...trying to sing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and asking Bigger to sing along, Mary and Jan decide that it’s probably time to call it a night—Mary has to get back to... (full context)
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At the edge of the park, Jan gets out of the car, shakes Bigger’s hand once again, and offers him some pamphlets... (full context)
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...frantically and decides that the best course of action is to blame the murder on Jan, whom he can say came back to the Daltons’ house (instead of being dropped off,... (full context)
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...wad of bills from Mary’s purse, and the purse itself, and begins concocting his plan—that Jan came back to the house with Bigger and Mary; that Bigger went to bed; that... (full context)
Book 2
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...has dried blood on it. Bigger realizes that he can take some of the pamphlets Jan gave him, which are still in his pockets, and put them in his drawer at... (full context)
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...his plans, believing that, when news of Mary’s death is revealed, everyone will immediately blame Jan and his “red” (Communist) companions. (full context)
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...in her room, that her bed appears not to have been slept in, and that Jan called that morning (as he promised to do, in Bigger’s presence, the night before), checking... (full context)
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...Dalton’s embarrassment about Mary’s disappearance—which she believes is a result of Mary’s sexual impropriety with Jan—will cause her not to grill him too harshly. Bigger makes it seem that Jan came... (full context)
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...half-true version of what has happened to Mary. He says that Mary has eloped with Jan, that no one can find the couple, and that he, Bigger, has taken some of... (full context)
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...what happened the night before, and Bigger, lying to keep his alibi straight, says that Jan returned to the house with Mary, that Mary told Bigger to take the trunk down... (full context)
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...straight in order to keep the authorities from figuring out that Bigger is lying about Jan’s presence in the house, and other details of the previous night. Bigger takes the trunk... (full context)
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...more detail with his story, in order to convince the Daltons and the authorities that Jan is responsible for Mary’s disappearance. Bigger tells the story of the night more or less... (full context)
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...Bigger, asking if he, too, is a Communist, and if Bigger is therefore in on Jan’s plot to kidnap or hurt Mary. But Bigger, genuinely frightened, says that he doesn’t know... (full context)
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...account of the previous night. Britten says that he will go about trying to contact Jan, to see if Bigger’s story stands up to scrutiny. (full context)
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...he is being called from below. When he arises, he answers the door to find Jan, Mr. Dalton, and Britten wanting to speak with him. The three come into Bigger’s room.... (full context)
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Jan continues to describe the events of the previous evening—he does not lie, but instead says... (full context)
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On the way out of the house, Jan runs into Bigger, who has gone down the staircase (Britten and Mr. Dalton have already... (full context)
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...traced on the letter), and writes a ransom note, pretending to be a Communist from Jan’s group called “Red.” The note, scrawled quickly, asks for ten thousand dollars to be brought... (full context)
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...but with a renewed urgency: what Bigger did the night before, what Bigger saw, how Jan behaved with Mary, what Jan told him to do with the trunk. Bigger repeats his... (full context)
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...the day after the crime was committed). The reporters ask if Mary is missing, if Jan is responsible, if Jan has been arrested, and what Dalton plans to do about finding... (full context)
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...as being “ghost-like.” Henry tells the reporters that he has asked the police to release Jan and drop all charges against him; Henry goes on to apologize to Jan for the... (full context)
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...gone upstairs to use his phone to call the newsroom, comes back to say that Jan won’t leave police custody after all. (full context)
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Some of the reporters, and Britten, believe that Jan won’t leave the precinct because he is in fact guilty and afraid of what will... (full context)
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...newspaper, in which he reads more about the abduction, the ransom, and the holding of Jan in custody. Bigger fears that, with all the scrutiny of the police across the city,... (full context)
Book 3
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...by police to the Cook County Morgue, where he spots Mr. and Mrs. Dalton and Jan, though Bigger cannot speak to them—he is nearly in a daze, and has been eating... (full context)
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...neck does Bigger snap out of the reverie the preacher’s words have occasioned. Bigger sees Jan coming into the jail cell, where the preacher remains; a jolt of fear runs through... (full context)
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Jan begins speaking, though it is difficult for him to get the words out. Jan tells... (full context)
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Bigger wonders if Jan isn’t trying to trick him, but Bigger realizes that Jan wants to help; Jan asks... (full context)
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...Buckley immediately that Bigger will be signing no confessions; Buckley, who is contemptuous of Max, Jan, and all Communists, says that his office doesn’t need a confession to convict Bigger, since... (full context)
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...to do is to confess to everything, avoid trial, and receive his punishment. Max and Jan also leave the cell, with the preacher and the members of the gang. Only Buckley... (full context)
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...the trial of Bigger Thomas; they say they have no objections. The deputy coroner calls Jan to the stand, ostensibly in order to further clarify the events of the night in... (full context)
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The deputy coroner then launches into a series of leading questions against Jan, asking whether Jan would approve of Mary marrying an African American, whether Jan got Mary... (full context)
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...that black man want to rape white women. Bigger tells Max that, that evening with Jan and Mary, Bigger hated them; they made him feel inferior, ashamed of his blackness. Max... (full context)
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...gets his hat and leaves the cell, Bigger tells Max to say goodbye also to Jan. The cell door closes, and Bigger is left alone, awaiting his execution. The novel ends. (full context)