Literature Study GuidesNative SonFear Book 1 Out With Mary And Jan Summary

Native Son | Study Guide

Richard Wright

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Native Son Study Guide." Course Hero. 28 July 2016. Web. 28 Sep. 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2016, July 28). Native Son Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "Native Son Study Guide." July 28, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2023.


Course Hero, "Native Son Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed September 28, 2023,

Native Son | Fear, Book 1 (Out with Mary and Jan) | Summary



Bigger is supposed to take Mary to the university, but Mary convinces him to pick up her boyfriend, Jan, instead. Mary's family does not approve of Jan because he is a communist. Once they pick him up, Jan takes over driving and has Bigger sit in the front seat with him and Mary. They insist on eating someplace on the South Side, Bigger's neighborhood, because Mary wants to see how black people live. Jan wants to talk to Bigger about workers' rights. Bigger is confused and embarrassed by their attention, which makes him angry. He only becomes angrier when they insist he join them in the restaurant because people Bigger knows will see them. He does join them for chicken and a few beers, and he shares part of the bottle of rum Jan and Mary get to take with them when they leave.

Jan and Mary ask Bigger to drive them around the park. The three of them pass the bottle around while Mary and Jan fool around in the backseat and Bigger drives. At 1:00 a.m., Mary says she needs to go home because she is due to leave for Detroit around 8:30 that morning, so they drop off Jan, who gives Bigger some communist pamphlets to read. Then Bigger drives Mary home. She leans on his shoulder and laughs in her drunkenness while Bigger is overcome with hate for her.


Bigger's evening out on the town with Mary and Jan shows how the rules of segregation, in theory, run in two directions. Black people must live up to certain expectations of behavior around white people, as Bigger's subservient behavior toward the Daltons and his fellow servant Peggy shows. At the same time, the expectation for white people is that they will maintain a respectful distance, even when giving orders, and stay on their side of the line as well. Neither Jan nor Mary follow this unstated rule, speaking with Bigger in a friendly way, asking him to call them by their first names, inviting themselves into Bigger's neighborhood, and insisting he eat with them. These circumstances are unusual, not only because white people disapprove of them but because black people disapprove of them as well. Bigger is embarrassed by the possibility of being seen in public, in his neighborhood, with white people.

Jan and Mary's refusal to adhere to the rules also angers Bigger, partly because their behavior inspires fear in him. White people don't treat black people the way Jan and Mary do, so that makes Bigger suspicious about their intentions, and he feels like a joke to them. Indeed, Mary does treat his life and community as a kind of entertainment, comparing a visit to the South Side with her vacations abroad, but she seems sincere in her statement that she feels bad knowing so little about the people who share her city. The problem with their behavior, and a source of Bigger's anger, is that, as white people, Mary and Jan have the privilege to break the rules of segregation if they feel like it. In general, the worst consequence they might face is some social awkwardness, but, if a black person were to cross that line, the consequences could be dire, ranging from job loss to arrest or even death. For Mary and Jan to cross the line between black and white shows Bigger that they have the freedom to do so, which makes him hate them both because he does not have the same freedom to refuse their requests.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Native Son? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!