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Native Son | Quotes

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1.

Every time I get to thinking about me being black and they being white, me being here and they being there, I feel like something awful's going to happen to me.


Bigger, Fear, Book 1 (Street to Pool Room)

Bigger expresses his bitterness about racial separation and the opportunities he doesn't have in a conversation with Gus. When he says something awful will happen to him, he foreshadows the coming events that will define the rest of his short life.

2.

But he kept this knowledge of his fear thrust firmly down in him; his courage to live depended upon how successfully his fear was hidden from his consciousness.


Narrator, Fear, Book 1 (Theater)

Bigger's fear, and his denial of that fear, drives him to lash out in increasingly violent ways.

3.

I've been to England, France and Mexico, but I don't know how people live ten blocks from me. We know so little about each other.


Mary, Fear, Book 1 (Out with Mary and Jan)

Mary acknowledges the tragedy of segregation, but she does not fully grasp how little she understands of the reality of it or how dangerous her lack of understanding truly is.

4.

He stood with her body in his arms in the silent room and cold facts battered him like waves sweeping in from the sea: she was dead; she was white; she was a woman; he had killed her; he was black; he might be caught; he did not want to be caught; if he were they would kill him.


Narrator, Fear, Book 1 (Mary's Bedroom and the Basement)

Bigger can see the events that will unfold for him in the moments after he has killed Mary, and this description is exactly the way they do unfold. The details of the killing do not matter to anyone, only these facts.

5.

The thing to do was to act just like others acted, live like they lived, and while they were not looking, do what you wanted.


Narrator, Flight, Book 2 (With the Family)

Over the course of his life, Bigger learns that he must act a certain way to conform to white society's view of what a black man should be. He also learns that he can act as he pleases when people aren't looking and thus finds his crimes liberating. The example of other characters, such as Mr. Dalton, show that this is how some people are able to live. They do as they wish with no regard to legal or moral authority in the long run, but only because they already have status.

6.

Rape was what one felt when one's back was against a wall and one had to strike out, whether one wanted to or not, to keep the pack from killing one.


Narrator, Flight, Book 2 (On the Run with Bessie)

The accusation of rape, forced sex without consent, follows Bigger, even before he actually rapes or kills anyone. Bigger thinks of rape as the kind of violence he has always done to keep his own fear and the rest of the world at bay.

7.

All my life's been full of hard trouble. If I wasn't hungry, I was sick. And if I wasn't sick, I was in trouble. I ain't never bothered nobody. I just worked hard every day as long as I can remember. ... And now I'm in this. They looking for me and when they catch me they'll kill me.


Bessie, Flight, Book 2 (On the Run with Bessie)

Bessie describes the suffering she has faced all her life, and her experience is typical. Furthermore, even though she has obeyed the rules, she still ends up in trouble.

8.

He had even heard it said that white people felt it was good when one Negro killed another; it meant that they had one Negro less to contend with.


Narrator, Fate, Book 3 (Inquest and After)

While Bessie's body is on display, Bigger reflects on possible reasons why society seems to care less when black people commit crimes against one another, while crimes against whites are soundly punished.

9.

They felt they had you fenced off so that you could not do what you did. Now they're mad because deep down in them they believe that they made you do it. When people feel that way, you can't reason with 'em.


Max, Fate, Book 3 (Conversation with Max)

Max observes how the guilt and fear of the white community and their efforts at segregation have failed and created Bigger. When people are ruled by fear and guilt, they can't be swayed by facts or reason.

10.

Maybe we wanted him to do it! Maybe we would have had no chance or justification to stage attacks against hundreds of thousands of people if he had acted sanely and normally!


Max, Fate, Book 3 (The Trial and Max's Defense)

Max speculates that Bigger's crimes have provided white society with an excuse to tighten restrictions on black neighborhoods and individuals even more and that whites have no problem with this. Although Bigger's actions were not sane or rational, they were just the excuse white society needed, and perhaps was looking for, to impose greater limits on African Americans.

11.

I didn't know I was really alive in this world until I felt things hard enough to kill for 'em.


Bigger, Fate, Book 3 (Before the Execution)

In his last moments before execution, Bigger recognizes that his life was so bleak that his crimes were the only thing that made him have true feelings about anything.

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