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Literature Study GuidesNative SonFate Book 3 Conversation With Max Summary

Native Son | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Native Son | Fate, Book 3 (Conversation with Max) | Summary



A guard brings Bigger a meal and a newspaper that includes more hostile coverage of the inquest. A struggle in a nearby cell interrupts his reading, as another black inmate demands his "papers." A guard explains the inmate has been driven crazy by too much studying at the university. He was picked up at the post office wearing only his underwear, demanding to see the president to tell him about the conditions the black community lives in.

Max arrives, and Bigger explains that his confession was the truth, but he didn't rape Mary. He says he hated Mary because he didn't understand her behavior, but he knew he would be accused of raping her anyway. For the first time Bigger talks openly about his feelings about white people. He feels he has nothing to lose given that he's already in jail. He later realizes he feels relief and connection to Max after this talk, and he thinks he may be closer to understanding why he has committed these crimes.

Max will have Bigger plead not guilty at the arraignment so they can have a trial. Then at the trial he will enter a guilty plea so Max can argue against a death penalty for Bigger.


The other inmate, a university student who has studied and reflected on America's treatment of black people, stands in sharp contrast to the uneducated and largely unreflective Bigger. The unnamed student serves as a reminder that, even with educational opportunity, a black man can wind up in jail. The white guards imply that the student's madness has been brought on because his black mind was too weak to stand up to all the studying required for a university education. If the student is truly insane, it is likely the result of trying to process the full weight of injustice done to his people. Still, the only assessment of the man's mental stability comes from the white guard, an unreliable source, and the student is being punished for speaking out against white society.

Bigger gets his own chance to speak out against white society when he talks to Max. In this conversation Bigger articulates for the first time many of the things he has only thought to himself or shared in vague terms with his friends. Bigger gives voice to his frustrations, saying that whites don't really care if black people live or die as long as they stay on their side of the dividing line. That line kept him from even thinking about wanting to do something with his life, and he doesn't feel connected to anyone or anything—not church, community, or politics. Bigger seems moved that Max is taking an interest in him and asking him questions, although it is Max's job to do so. This connection gives Bigger a sense of peace and hope, even though he is still unable to put that feeling into words.

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