Bigger’s entire life, leading up to the murders, is characterized by a hatred of his fellow man, and an impulse toward danger and violence. Bigger wishes to rob Blum’s grocery, and when his friends do not immediately go along with his plan, he intimidates them. Bigger wants to gratify himself physically (most notably by masturbating in the movie house before the Blum robbery); life, for him, represents only a series of deferrals of death, of small instances of physical pleasure that have no relation to any higher emotional aim.
After the murders—when Bigger claims he “felt free” (to Max), because he was in control of his own life—Bigger comes slowly to realize, through his trial and through the exhortations of Max on his behalf and of Buckley against him, that life is more than a series of disconnected physical pleasures. Life, instead, is lived for a certain goal—for making a profit, for helping others, for establishing a family. Yet Bigger has trouble coming to terms with these realities of unselfish living, until Max asks him about his own life. The paradox of Bigger’s condition is that his total selfishness, his ignorance of his family’s suffering and of the suffering of others, is combined with a total lack of self-awareness and self-interrogation.
Thus, by asking Bigger to talk about his own life, Max demonstrates the kind of care for another person he believes Bigger ought to have shown to his own friends and family. Bigger does not articulate his prison revelations in exactly these terms, but he nevertheless admits to Max, in their final meeting before his death, that Max has taken the time to see him as an individual, and that this has caused Bigger to recognize that life has value, death is not simply “another thing” that happens to human beings. Death is, instead, the cessation of life’s possibility, which is what makes death so unbearable to most. Bigger realizes life’s meaning when it is too late to change his own life—but the novel, as cautionary tale, establishes that we, who read it, still have time to correct our lives, to live with purpose, and to put off death by living for others.
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live ThemeTracker
Death, Life’s Purpose, and the Will to Live Quotes in Native Son
You scared your sister with that rat and she fainted! Ain’t you got no sense at all
? Aw, I didn’t know she was that scary.
If you get that job . . . I can fix up a nice place for you children. You could be comfortable and not have to live like pigs.
God, I’d like to fly up there in that sky.
God’ll let you fly when He gives you your wings up in heaven.
At least the fight made him feel the equal of them. And he felt the equal of Doc, too; had he not slashed his table and dared him to use his gun?
The reality of the room fell from him; the vast city of white people that sprawled outside took its place. 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 here.
He was not crying but his lips were trembling and his chest was heaving. He wanted to lie down upon the floor and sleep off the horror of this thing. . . . Quickly, he wrapped the head in the newspaper . . . then he shoved the head in. The hatchet went next.
You’ve got a good job, now . . . You ought to work hard and keep it and try to make a man out of yourself. Some day you’ll want to get married and have a home of your own . . . .
Ultimately, though, his hate and hope turned outward from himself and Gus: his hope toward a vague benevolent something that would help and lead him, and his hate toward the whites; for he felt that they ruled him, even when they were far away and not thinking of him . . . .
Listen, I just felt around in Mary’s room. Something’s wrong. She didn’t finish packing her trunk. At least half of her things are still there. She said she was planning to go to some dances in Detroit and she didn’t take the new things she bought.
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?
He was confident. During the last day and night new fears had come, but new feelings had helped to allay those fears. The moment when he had stood above Mary’s bed and found that she was dead the fear of electrocution had entered his flesh and blood. . . . As long as he could take his life into his own hands and dispose of it as he pleased . . . he need not be afraid.
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 . . . .
There was silence. Bigger stared without a thought or an image in his mind. There was just the old feeling, the feeling that he had had all his life: he was black and had done wrong; white men were looking at something with which they would soon accuse him.
And yet his desire to crush all faith in him was in itself built upon a sense of faith. The feelings of his body reasoned that if there could be no merging with the men and women about him, there should be a merging with some other part of the natural world in which he lived. Out of the mood of renunciation there sprang up in him again the will to kill.
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 . . . .
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!
What I killed for must’ve been good! It must have been good! When a man kills, it’s for something . . . . I didn’t know I was really alive in this world until I felt things hard enough to kill for ‘em . . . .