Literature Study GuidesNative SonFate Book 3 Before The Execution Summary

Native Son | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Native Son | Fate, Book 3 (Before the Execution) | Summary



Bigger eats and sleeps little as he awaits the carrying out of his sentence. When his family comes to visit, he sends them away and tells them to forget about him. He drives away Reverend Hammond and throws hot coffee at a white priest. He is allowed to write letters but does not because he has no one to write to and nothing to say. He remembers his connection with Max and wants to speak with him again.

Max's appeal to the governor fails, and he comes to see Bigger before the execution. Bigger talks to Max about their conversation that was so meaningful to him, hoping to recapture that feeling before he is sent to die. Max barely remembers their talk, though, and Bigger feels disappointed. Instead, Max talks to Bigger about the struggle between rich and poor people, how segregation is an extension of the wealthy trying to preserve what they have. Bigger's response to this is that he must have killed for a good reason, which seems to frighten Max. With a connection eluding him, Bigger simply tells Max to let his mother know he is all right and didn't cry. He tells Max to say hello to Jan. They say good-bye to one another, and the cell door clangs shut.


Bigger avoids all human contact, as is his habit, but he desperately wants to recapture the connection he had with Max before he dies. This shows some small change in his tendency toward isolation. Another change is his need to feel that what he has done meant something greater. In a life filled with impulsive, mindless violence, this tendency toward self-awareness is a significant change, however small.

Bigger's attachment to Max is not mutual, perhaps because, even in this case, the racial divide cannot be completely conquered. Max understands Bigger's experience only in an academic sense, but he attempts to provide Bigger with some comfort. He frames Bigger's struggle in broad terms; the struggles between different races and different classes are all attempts on the part of wealthy, powerful people to maintain their power and wealth.

In the end Bigger is left to face his fate alone. The clanging sound of the cell door is a mirror of the alarm sound that opened the book. If the alarm was meant as a wake-up call to America, the clanging door at the end represents the possible fate of an America that fails to heed that call: a prison of America's own making.

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