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Native SonRichard WrightWith an Introduction by Arnold RampersadThe Restored Text Established by the Library of America
TOMy Motherwho, when I was a child at her knee, taught me to reverethe fanciful and the imaginative
Even today is my complaint rebellious,My stroke is heavier than my groaning.—JOB
ContentsEpigraphIntroduction by Arnold RampersadBook OneBook TwoBook ThreeHow “Bigger” Was BornNote on the TextAbout the AuthorOther Books by Richard WrightCopyrightAbout the Publisher
IntroductionThe sound of the alarm that opensNative Sonwas Richard Wright’surgent call in 1940 toAmerica to awaken from its self-induced slumber about the reality of race relations in thenation. As proud, rich, and powerful as America was, Wright insisted, the nation was facing agrave danger, one that would ultimately destroy the United States if its dimensions and deviouscomplexity were not recognized.Native Sonwas intended to be America’s guide inconfronting this danger.Wright believed that few Americans, black or white, were prepared to face squarely andhonestly the most profound consequences of more than two centuries of the enslavement andsegregation of blacks in North America. The dehumanization of African Americans duringslavery had been followed in the long aftermath of the Civil War by their often brutalrepression in the South and by conditions of life in many respects equally severe in thenominally integrated North. Nevertheless, Wright knew, blacks and whites alike continued tocling to a range of fantasies about the true nature of the relationship between the races evenas the nation lurched inexorably toward a possible collapse over the fundamental question ofjustice for the despised African American minority.Among blacks, the centuries of abuse and exploitation had created ways of life marked bypatterns of duplicity, including self-deception, as well as something far more forbidding andlethal. Slavery and neo-slavery had led not simply to the development of a psychology oftimidity, passivity, and even cowardice among the African American masses, Wright suggests inNative Son, but also to an ominous emerging element of which Bigger Thomas, the centralcharacter of the novel, is a reliable if particularly forbidding example. Although this newelement was itself susceptible to fantasy and self-deception, what set its members apart fromother blacks was the depth of their estrangement from both black and white culture, theirhatred of both groups, and their sometimes unconscious but powerful identification of violenceagainst other human beings as the most appropriate response to the disastrous conditions oftheir lives. Within the confines of the black world, this violence was easily directed at fellowblacks; but increasingly, Wright warned his readers, this violence would be aimed at whites.