Bigger Thomas, Richard Wright’s protagonist in Native Son, only finds “the hidden meaning of his life” after killing his white boss’ daughter, Mary Dalton. Bigger correlates this hidden meaning with his black skin. Bigger’s blackness becomes the reason “his crime felt natural.” However, because race is a social construct designed by those in power to maintain power, any attributes or personality traits seen as natural based on the color of one’s skin are entirely unnatural. Martha C. Nussbaum discusses Native Son in her book, Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life, saying, “[Bigger] is aware of himself in images drawn from the white world’s denigration of him” (93). This means that Bigger can only see himself through the lens of the white world. In other words, he views all of his actions through the veil ofwhite society, a veil that relies on the perception of black people as less than, and even further that they deserve this fate because it is “natural” for black people to be criminals and, therefore, less than white members of society. Because of this veil, Bigger and other characters are blind to the reality of their world. Wright shows us, as readers, how unnatural Bigger’s crime is and that the idea of anything being “natural” because of the pigmentation of someone’s skin is, in fact, incredibly unnatural. Further, he asks us to question the ideals of both Bigger’s society and our own. Finally, he seeks to helps us remove the veil from our eyes and cure our blindness.Wright’s novel, which takes place in 1930s Chicago, follows Bigger Thomas, a young black man in a white world. Bigger struggles with a split personality; he hates his blackness, which he describes as “feel[ing] like [he is] on the outside of the world peeping in through a knothole in the fence,” but he also hates the side of himself yearning to experience the freedom of whiteness (20). He finds a job working for Mr. Dalton, a prominent white businessman, and accidentally kills Dalton’s only daughter. After committing this murder, Bigger comes to realize
that others around him cannot see—literally. Bigger repeatedly says everyone around him is blind; they only see life the way they want to see it rather than how it truly is. In an attempt to evade arrest, Bigger kills his quasi-girlfriend, Bessie, because she “know[s] too much” (178). However, as I will discuss later, Bessie’s murder is much larger than Bigger’s desire to not be caught. Bigger’s violent actions drive both the novel and his revelations about both himself and others around him. Once Bigger has committed these two acts of violence, he begins to reconcilethe sides of himself that he hates; he begins to come to grips with his whiteness and his blackness.