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Literature Study GuidesNative SonFate Book 3 Buckleys Closing And Sentence Summary

Native Son | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Native Son | Fate, Book 3 (Buckley's Closing and Sentence) | Summary



After the recess Buckley presents his closing argument and urges for the death penalty. He recounts Bigger's crimes in lurid terms, including a description of Mary's rape that speculates on her fear and pleas for mercy, declaring the rape as the "central crime." The murder was only a means of covering up the rape. In his speech he uses animal analogies for Bigger and references his blackness repeatedly, calling him a "black lizard" and "black mad dog" and using the words beast and ape several times. Buckley calls for the death penalty to serve the security of the public and to make an example of Bigger to discourage future crimes like these.

The court adjourns briefly before the judge delivers the death sentence. Max promises to appeal to the governor, but Bigger does not believe it will do any good.


If Max's speech is an appeal to humans' better nature to change fear and prejudice, Buckley's closing argument is an appeal directly to that fear and prejudice. Contrary to Max, Buckley's role is to defend the status quo and seek retribution for Bigger's crimes. Clearly, Bigger has done terrible things and must be held accountable, but Buckley's own language during his closing argument reveals an interest in his own agenda more than an interest in justice. The language he uses to describe Bigger is not designed to appeal to a jury because Bigger has already pleaded guilty to the crime; instead, it is a reflection of Buckley's own prejudice and personal feelings about black people as less than human. He mentions on numerous occasions the crowd outside and the public, which implies his entire speech may be a performance for the public whose votes he wants to win.

Buckley's declaration of rape as the "central crime" reflects the ongoing white fear that black men seem to automatically rape white women when given the chance. His statement confirms the fear that Bigger had when he placed the pillow over Mary's face. The rape charge and death sentence were always going to be the outcome, from the moment Bigger stepped into Mary's room. The arrest, inquest, and trial seem as if they were done only for the sake of appearance. In another echo of Bigger's earlier observation, the state is doing what it wants in executing Bigger, but in conducting the trial it has preserved the appearance of doing what the public expects.

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