Literature Study GuidesNative SonFear Book 1 Theater Summary

Native Son | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Native Son | Fear, Book 1 (Theater) | Summary



To pass time before the robbery, Jack and Bigger go to see a movie. Once in the theater, but before the film starts, Jack and Bigger sit in their seats and masturbate. Then they change seats and talk about plans for the robbery until a newsreel begins showing "the daughters of the rich, sunbathing in Florida." One of the daughters is Mary Dalton, whose father is Henry Dalton, a Chicago millionaire. Bigger recognizes this name as the man he is supposed to see later about the job. He starts thinking that working for a millionaire might be a good chance to learn how to make money and reconsiders taking the job.

After the film Bigger goes home to get his gun, then he and Jack return to the poolroom to meet the others for the robbery. He becomes enraged when Gus arrives at the poolroom a few minutes later than they agreed to meet. After he savagely beats Gus, the group has to call off the plan. Doc, the poolroom owner, threatens to call the police, so Bigger slices the felt on one of the tables to intimidate him. Doc kicks the boys out of the pool hall. Bigger then goes into an alley to be alone and laughs, but it's a tense laughter that ends with him noticing a teardrop on his face. Bigger brushes off the incident and stops by his apartment before his meeting with Mr. Dalton.


Bigger and Jack masturbating in a movie theater to kill time before the show is a deviant act, but it is less motivated by any kind of direct sexual stimulation and more motivated by boredom and rebellion. There is even an element of manly competition to the act, with both men trying to finish first. Their self-gratification is just that, a moment of gratification in a world that offers them little gratification of any kind. They take pleasure where they can find it.

The masturbation takes place before Bigger sees Mary in the newsreel. He will later claim he was not sexually attracted to Mary, but his observation of the newsreel shows he is attracted to Mary's life, to what she and her vacation represent: wealth, leisure, beautiful people, warm sunshine. In short, this newsreel clip is the exact opposite of Bigger's life. He spends the entire film fantasizing, not about Mary and her bathing suit but about the lives of the rich and how he might be able to get closer to that life. In reality this aspiration is just as impossible as Bigger's earlier daydream about flying, but it is enough to make him change his mind about the job.

Once Bigger has changed his mind, he becomes even more afraid to pull the afternoon robbery at Blum's. He can't say this to his friends because backing out of the robbery would make him seem cowardly and because they might also see his decision as selling out to the white folks. Bigger's fear finds the outlet it always finds: violence. He could have just used Gus's tardiness as an excuse to call off the robbery and left it at that, but he is so afraid his friends will see his fear that he beats Gus to a pulp and threatens an old man. Like masturbating in the movie theater, these acts of violence provide a sense of release and an affirmation of Bigger's manhood. The moment in the alleyway shows Bigger's other pattern of behavior: ignoring and making light of the deep rage and fear that have driven his actions.

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