The novel is also a detailed examination of the nature of “capitalism” and “communism” in 1930s Chicago—a time and place known for agitation in the workforce, over who ought to control “the means of production.”
Bigger is often caught between these competing worldviews, and though he expresses frustration at the societal status quo, he is not capable, until far later in the novel, of articulating these frustrations in economic terms.
On the one end, capitalism, and the creation of profits for distribution among a small group of people, is embodied by the Dalton family, specifically Mr. Henry Dalton. Dalton is not a rapacious capitalist—he wishes to reinvest his earnings, some of which derive from real estate owned in black neighborhoods, in the community—but he still uses his wealth to insulate himself from the misery of those living in the Black Belt. Other beneficiaries of this system include Mrs. Dalton, who wishes to speak for the interests of their “black help,” but who cannot see that her desire to help is itself a manifestation of white privilege; and, of course, Mary, whose communist sympathies embody the interrelation, in the novel, between the capitalist and communist worldviews.
Both Mary and Jan, her lover, are active in the Communist Party of Chicago, and it is their desire to help Bigger as well—to “liberate” his people from the shackles of economic servitude. But Bigger nevertheless experiences a hatred for Mary and Jan despite their good intentions, or perhaps because of them: Bigger seems intuitively to recognize that Jan and Mary, despite their best efforts, are limited by a paternalistic impulse to help African Americans, who, they believe, cannot help themselves. In this way, the communism of Mary and Jan is not so different from the capitalism of Mr. and Mrs. Dalton—both these impulses of kindness lead to death and destruction.
Finally, at the novel’s end, Wright offers a portrait of Max as a sympathetic communist figure, one whose motivation to help Bigger is relatively pure (as Max himself, a Jewish member of the Chicago legal community, has felt the sting of discrimination in his own life). Although Bigger never “converts” to communism, he comes, through his conversations with Max, to understand the interdependence of human beings in a community—and this idea, which lies at the root of utopian communism, allows him to approach his death with a kind of quiet dignity. Communism, however flawed and in whatever limited a capacity, is a way for humans to recognize the humanity of one another.
Capitalism and Communism ThemeTracker
Capitalism and Communism Quotes in Native Son
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.
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.
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.
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 . . . .
You are a Communist, you goddamn black sonofabitch! And you’re going to tell me about Miss Dalton and that Jan bastard!
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 . . . .
Now listen, Mr. Max. No question asked in this room will inflame the public mind any more than has the death of Mary Dalton, and you know it. You have the right to question any of these witnesses, but I will not tolerate any publicity-seeking by your kind here!
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.
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 . . . .