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Literature Study GuidesNative SonFate Book 3 The Trial And Maxs Defense Summary

Native Son | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Native Son | Fate, Book 3 (The Trial and Max's Defense) | Summary



As planned, Max enters a guilty plea at the trial and wants to show how Bigger's background has contributed to his crimes. Buckley argues against this strategy, saying Max is attempting an insanity defense. Max maintains he only wants to provide evidence that might reduce Bigger's sentence. In response, Buckley calls a long series of witnesses to prove Bigger's guilt and establish his sanity, despite the plea.

The next day Max presents his argument in a long speech about the segregated conditions Bigger lives in and the historical mistreatment of black people in the United States. He explains how this separation of races contributed to Bigger's mistrust and fear of Jan and Mary when they attempted to befriend him. Then he highlights how Bigger's life offered him no hope of improvement, to the point that even his relationship with Bessie was based on the hollow pursuit of momentary pleasure, as are most of Bigger's activities. He pleads for Bigger to be spared a death sentence because it will only further the injustice to the black community and may create more "Biggers" in the process by perpetuating the anger and fear that have marked Bigger's short life.

Bigger doesn't fully understand Max's argument, but he feels proud that someone was willing to make an effort to save him, even as he believes he is not worth saving. The judge calls a recess, and Bigger and Max wait together.


Max's speech is one of the longest single scenes of the entire novel, and in it he makes plain the points implied by earlier events. Max acts as a defender of African Americans and seeks to expose the hardships they endure to a predominantly white audience. Bigger is driven to violence because he has few other available options. Boxed in by a segregated and prejudiced society, lacking the education that might allow him to reflect in healthier ways, Bigger acts out in physical violence and pleasure-seeking behavior. Because the world around him treats him as less than human, he is unable to see the humanity in other people, so his relationships with his family and with Bessie are superficial.

Max paints both Bigger and Mary as victims of a world that has been carefully constructed to keep them separated. Because Bigger and Mary have no way to communicate with one another, there can be no understanding, just as there can be no real understanding between any black and white people under the current social system. In Max's argument Mary's murder is the inevitable result of centuries of brutality and strict racial separation. Max further argues that white society actually knows they have wronged the black population. The collective guilt about these historical wrongs and fear of retribution make them want to push black people away from them, in much the same way that Bigger's own shame and guilt drives his violence. Max concludes that these types of crimes will continue to occur unless the court takes a stand against the status quo and shows Bigger mercy and a chance to redeem himself.

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