Wright attempts to tease out, in Native Son, the nature of Bigger’s anger—his hatred of humanity—and the extent to which charity toward man, as espoused by Max, Jan, Mary, and others, is a preferable way of life. Bigger is defined and enveloped by his hate. He hates the white people he believes have kept him out of school, out of the profession (aircraft pilot) he desires; he hates the Daltons for giving him a room and a job, for treating him as someone in need of charity; and, perhaps most importantly, Bigger hates and rejects his mother and siblings, feeling that, although they love him, they can only crowd in on him and demand things of him. Bigger’s anger is his default emotional state—his natural way of viewing the world.
But others in Bigger’s life wish to combat this anger. Jan and Mary seem genuinely to want to get to know him, and though the night they spend together goes horribly awry, and Bigger attempts to blame the murder on Jan, Jan nevertheless takes Bigger’s side, and hopes, even during the trial, that Bigger might escape the death penalty. Bessie, Bigger’s girlfriend, is a foil for Bigger’s mother: both are women afraid of Bigger’s anger, hoping that he will somehow realize that, although white society might attempt to thwart Bigger and his aspirations, that there exists, too, a society in that Black Belt willing to support and love Bigger.
This all contrasts with the charity offered by the Daltons, who take in members of the black community to work for them, and who give money (evoked most pointedly by the “ping-pong tables”) to the Black Belt community. Unfortunately, the Daltons are not capable of understanding that their efforts infantilize and continue, however implicitly, to support the oppression of African-American Chicagoans. Max, on the other hand, is a person outside Bigger’s community who, through genuine concern for Bigger’s life, and for the plight of all African Americans, shows Bigger compassion, makes a case for Bigger’s difficult circumstances, and hopes to avoid the death penalty for his client and friend. At the novel’s end, although it is a small victory, Bigger realizes that Max’s attempts to understand the story of Bigger’s life and circumstances have provided a model for genuine human engagement: a charity of the heart and mind, a form of human communion. Their conversation is not enough to save Bigger’s life, but the small smile Bigger gives at the close of the book seems tacit, and poignant, recognition of the possibility of human kindness.
Anger and Charity ThemeTracker
Anger and Charity 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.
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.
You’re scared ‘cause he’s a white man?
Naw. But Blum keeps a gun. Suppose he beats us to it?
Aw, you scared; that’s all. He’s a white man and you scared.
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?
He hated himself at that moment. Why was he acting and feeling this way? He wanted to wave his hand and blot out the white man who was making him feel this.
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.
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 . . . .
Bigger stepped back, thunder-struck. He felt in his pocket for the money; it was not there. He took the money from Buddy and stuffed it hurriedly in his pocket.
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 . . . .
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.
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 . . . .
Isn’t it true that you refuse to rent houses to Negroes if those houses are in other sections of the city?
Well, it’s an old custom.
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.
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!