Native Son by Richard Wright

Native Son by Richard Wright was first published on the 1st of March 1940. It is said to have been written for a white audience. Bigger Thomas, the main protagonist, has been criticised (or identified) as a caricature lacking the depth and truth of other black protagonists found in that era.

SETTING

Setting is the most important part of this novel. It’s 1930s Chicago and the Jim Crow Laws are in full force. Black people are corralled into the Black Belt, living in cramped, rat infested apartments that cost more to rent than the white people’s apartments across town; bread is more expensive but not as fresh as white people’s bread; It’s America at a time when black people are unknown and unwanted by the whites ruling class. It’s a country where black people feel completely alienated; a world where a murdered black woman’s body is considered with such disregard that it is used as evidence in the murder trial of a white woman.

It’s over 15 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and 17 years before Elizabeth Eckford and The Little Rock Nine met with such hate when they went to integrated high school for the first time.

An alternate-angle view of Elizabeth Eckford on her first day of school, taken by an Associated Press photographer. Hazel Bryan can be seen behind her in the crowd. (Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Bigger stays in a one room apartment with his mother, brother and sister. He and his brother share one bed while his mother and sister share another. They avert their eyes each morning to allow the others to get dressed without “feeling ashamed.”

Like his humanity, Bigger’s manhood is under constant attack, both at home and outside. To the white men in society he is a boy. To his mother he’s also boy, albeit in a different way:

‘sometimes I wonder why I birthed you.’

We wouldn’t have to live in this garbage dump if you had any manhood in you’

How is his manhood realised? In violence. When a helpless rat appears in the room, it’s Bigger who must kill it. He corners it and its fangs tear a three inch hole in his trousers. This happens in the first few pages and is a metaphor for the story to come, for Bigger is also helpless but cornered. He holds up the dead rat to his sister – his manhood and dominance made tangible, just as the state will hold him up to the white mob.

CHARACTERS

I will focus only on Bigger Thomas because to include the other characters: Mr. Dalton, Mary and Jan, Bessie, Max and Buckley, would be to turn this review into an essay.

Bigger Thomas

Bigger’s acts of bravado and violence hide his fear and make him feel, momentarily, as big as those he commits the acts upon. His ultimate act of violence though, that of taking a white life enables him to see clearly while those around him are blind. He sees the heavy burden his mother carries, his brothers naive innocence, his sister’s fear, her “shrinking from life.” However, in his clear sightedness he can only contrast his family against the white people he has met – His Mother/Mrs.Dalton, Buddy/Jan, Vera/Mary.

Committing murder and taking the subsequent actions is the first time in his life he’s acted fully on his own accord even though he feels forced into it to avoid being found in the girl’s room by her blind mother and being accused of the usual things that black men got accused of in those days.

He becomes obsessed with his ‘creation’ and constantly wants to read the newspaper to find out what’s being said about it and him, to read about his relevance in the world.

It’s not easy for me to separate Bigger from setting and plot. While I was reading, I highlighted a number of sentences that help characterise him:

“He hated his family because he knew that they were suffering and that he was powerless to help them.”

“he could take the job at Dalton’s and be miserable, or he could refuse it and starve. It maddened him to think that he did not have a wider choice of action.”

“Half the time I feel like I’m on the outside of the world peeping in through a knot-hole in the fence…”

“God, I’d love to fly up there in that sky.”

“His entire body hungered for keen sensation, something exciting and violent to relieve the taughtness.”

“In all his life these two murders were the most meaningful things that had ever happened to him. He was living, truly and deeply, no matter what others might think, looking at him with their blind eyes. Never had he had the chance to live out the consequences of his actions; never had he been so free as in this night and day of fear and murder and flight.”

“It was when he read the newspapers or magazines, went to the movies, or walked along the streets with crowds, that he felt what he wanted: to merge himself with others and be part of this world, to lose himself in it so he could find himself, to be allowed a chance to live like others, even though he was black.”

PLOT

The novel is set in three parts.

Book 1 – Fear: Bigger Thomas is the man of the Thomas household: a one room apartment in the Black Belt of 1930’s Chicago which he shares with his mother, brother and sister. He’s chosen by the ‘Relief’ as empoverished enough to be given a job as a driver for Mr Dalton, owner of a real estate empire, who is particularly charitable towards the poor black people in town. Bigger accidentally kills Mr Dalton’s daughter, Mary, on his very first night on the job.

Book 2 – Flight: Bigger tries to evade capture by implicating Mary’s friend Jan in the murder, then opportunistically writes a ransom letter in an attempt to gain $10,000 for the safe return of the girl. He engages Bessie in this plan against her will, and in the process gets found out, goes on the run, kills Bessie to save himself, then get’s caught.

Book 3 – Fate: Bigger’s lawyer Mr Max explains to the court how Bigger, a product of his surroundings came to kill, and pleads leniency. However, the state and the mob it incited are out for blood and have already made their minds up.

CONCLUSION

I enjoyed reading Native Son and learning more about American history in the process. It shows how fear, hate, repression and alienation can force someone (or an idea of someone) into drastic action. Any animal or human forced into a corner by someone or something with harmful intentions will fight to free itself. It’s an important novel and despite or perhaps because of the criticism has introduced me to more works from that period in a way that To Kill a Mocking Bird didn’t. Thanks to the Ayana Mathis article linked in the introduction, I’ve added the following books to my reading list:

I give Native Son 4 stars.

I finished this book in Bali. Click here for my Ubud travel blog.

Click here to learn more about The Classics Club

Prague

2019 – Prague Analogue Photo Blog

Prague is a beer lover’s paradise. On my first trip there I explored the city bar by bar trying out the different brands, Pilsner Urquell, Krusovice, Budwieser Budvar, Staropramen… I’d never tasted beer like it, and it was the cheapest in Europe (you’ll still find a pint for under £1.20). I almost cried when I got home and had my first taste of Scottish normality.

Since then, thanks to the craft brewing scene, the quality of beer has improved all over the world, but you still can’t beat the stuff in Prague. Like its beer, the city has remained unchanged, in my mind anyway. It’s a beautiful place, filled with history, culture and friendly people.

I’ve had some amazing experiences in Prague. It’s a great city to get lost in and an easy place to find an interesting conversation. Prague manages the seemingly impossible task of catering to everyone. If you’re looking for classical music and history you’ll find it here. Prefer to drink all night and sleep all day? You can do that too and much more besides. No matter what you’re into, Prague has something for you.

Analogue photo of a couple using a selfie stick to take a picture of themselves in front of the bridges of Prague
Analogue photo of men cleaning the windows of a barge on the Vltava River in front of Prague castle
An analogue photo of a girl in a black hat and black jacket with white oblongs crouches at the waterside to take a photo of a swan. Prague
Analogue photo of a statue of Jesus on the Charles Bridge Prague
Analogue photo of a one man band with banjo, horns and percussion on his back standing on Charles Bridge, Prague
analogue photo of the intricate pattern of cobbles on the street under Charles Bridge, Prague
Analogue photo of a Prague street with a sculpture of a man hanging from a pole extended from a 4 storey building
analogue photo of a man in a trench coat crossing a cobbled street in the sunshine holding two cups of coffee. Prague
Analogue photo of the window from inside James Dean Prague
Analogue photo of an old business man walking down a dimly lit alley

Ideas for Prague

  • Maitrea – My favourite restaurant in Prague. P.S. It’s a vegetarian restaurant.
  • Hemingway Bar – Drink expensive cocktails in a nice setting.
  • Tretter’s – Drink expensive cocktails in a nice setting.
  • U Sudu – Labyrinthine, smokey, dark cellar bar.
  • James Dean – American Diner by day, underground drinking den by night. My go-to place for breakfast.
  • Zazemi – Student bar with live music.
  • The Metronome – Hike up there for good views over the city.
  • Underground tour – see the names of politicians scratched into the stone walls of the astronomical clock building cellar where they were held prisoner. It didn’t end well for them.
  • Synagogue tour – see 5 of Prague’s synagogues including the Španělská synagoga.
  • Buy a book from Shakespeare and Sons deceptively big book shop.
  • Develop your photos at Ultralab & Syn.

Recommended Reading for Prague

My reading section is too short!

Got a book to suggest or know a place I should go on my next visit – Please leave comment or send me an email.

P.S. I’m taking my novel Vagabundo on the road.

On the 15th of June 2019 I published Vagabundo after years of obsessive work. It’s based in a fictional version of Jericoacoara Brazil and follows a man who, having withdrawn from society years before, arrives in town and tries to fit in, but he’s not welcome there. Vagabundo has been receiving good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.com. Click here to learn more.

Thanks for visiting my Prague Analogue Photo Blog.

Tokyo

I travelled to Tokyo on the 26th of November 2019 and stayed for 5 nights. I wish it could have been 5 months. This analogue photo blog gives a snapshot of my time there and might give you an idea of what you can get up to there. Scroll to the end for my Tokyo recommended reading list.

Yoyogi Park

Late afternoon. Golden light. Musicians come here to practice so they don’t disturb their neighbours. A man creates bubbles with a net he swings around his head. The kids chase after them. An infant flaps her hands about popping them all, her laugh rings out. Cyclists and runners loop the ring road. Girls pose for photos against the ginkgo trees surrounded by fallen fan-shaped leaves.

35mm Analogue Photo taken in Yoyogi Park Tokyo
35mm Analogue Photo taken in Yoyogi Park Tokyo
35mm Analogue Photo taken in Yoyogi Park Tokyo
35mm Analogue Photo taken in Yoyogi Park Tokyo
35mm Analogue Photo taken in Yoyogi Park Tokyo

Shinjuki

Day. Mister Donut. Coffee. Commuters. Hunt for Cinestill 800T. Zero stock in all of Tokyo. Shinjuku Gyoen. 4/4 Seasons coffee and cake. Unplan Hostel. Should I visit the Robot Restaurant? Night. Kuyakusho-dori: African hustlers. Hey man, where you from? Local working girls. Massagie? Dug Jazz bar. Silent. Expensive. Vagabond Izakaya. Warm lights glow within tassel bell shades, horns sound from the corner, Aga fixes a Moscow Mule. Liveatdominoes talks of Portugal in my ear. Where’s the bar with all the vinyl records I visited in 2017?

35mm Analogue Photo taken in Shinjuku

Shibuya

Shibuya crossing. Umbrella Battle Royale. Takeshi Kitano watching from the wall. Tower Records. Hear the Wind Sing. Shakeys Pizza, Dance, Dance, Dance. Scramble bar. Milan Nataraj corner table Saag Paneer. Hello to the 3 art students. The Millennials Hostel.

Senso Ji and Asakusa

35mm Analogue Photo taken at Senso Ji Tokyo
35mm Analogue Photo taken at Senso Ji Tokyo
35mm Analogue Photo taken at Senso Ji Tokyo
35mm Analogue Photo taken at Senso Ji Tokyo

Yokocho – Golden Gai, Omoide Yokocho, Nonbei Yokocho

Lanterns, drunks, karaoke. Members only. Cover charge. Death Match in Hell bar. Say hi to Wayne. Kameya Shinjuku Tentama Soba. Fish stock ramen with vegetable tempura. 5 Years vegetarian. Ended. Sake from square wooden cups. Hibiki Whisky. Winestand Bouteille. Louis musician from Kent talks Japanese to the bartender as the Swedish cider makers sample natural wines. Glasses clink. Empties rattle. 3:30 in the morning. Chairs upside down on counters of vacant bars.

35mm Analogue Photo taken at Golden Gai Tokyo
35mm Analogue Photo taken at Omoide Yokocho Tokyo
35mm Analogue Photo taken at Omoide Yokocho Tokyo

Recommended Reading for Tokyo

If you liked Tokyo Analogue Photo Blog, check out some of my other travel posts.

P.S.

I left copies of my novel Vagabundo all over Tokyo. Did you find one? Tell me where on the forum.

Portmanteau

Psst… I’m working on a new novel. It’s called Portmanteau.

Photo of a graveyard with the words 'Archibald 'Baldie' Summers is dead.' in the corner.

Baldie Summers, who obviously needs no introduction – Literature’s poster boy of the 1980s is found dead in a hotel room in Bangkok. Nobody even knew he was there.

Unexpected because he hadn’t been in the region for many years, but unsurprising because he was Archibald ‘Baldie’ Summers, he was working on new material in the region that made him.

Julian Rowntree, unknown writer living in Putney, West London, author of Terrarium, a novel that was well received by the very few who actually read it but has already run out of print, is asked by Baldie’s publisher to travel to Asia, follow in Baldie’s footsteps and finish what will be Baldie’s final novel.

Want to be one of the first to read Portmanteau? Add your email and I’ll let you know when it’s done.

Haven’t read my first novel yet? Check it out Here.

Hong Kong

I first visited Hong Kong in 2014 then lived there for one year from June 2016 to 2017. It’s one of my favourite cities for a number of reasons and a place I would love to spend more time in.

Most of these photos were taken with a Canon 6D camera before I gave it away to five kids pointing a gun at me in Rio de Janerio. Since 2018 I’ve been shooting film.

What’s would my perfect day in Hong Kong look like?

  • Breakfast at The Flying Pan
  • Visit to Tin Hau Temple in Yau Ma Tei
  • See a film at The Broadway Cinemateque
  • Have a lunch of vegetarian honey roast pork and rice at one of the Buddhist vegetarian restaurants
  • Go for a walk in one of the parks then stroll around the galleries and antique shops between Sheung Wan and The Mid-levels
  • Watch the sunset from the Kowloon Public Pier
  • Eat a slice of Pizza at the Mong Kok branch of Paisano’s
  • Watch the races at Happy Valley (it would have to be a Wednesday. I always put money on horse 9 to win the 9pm race).
  • Go see live music at The Wanch or Salon Number 10
  • Put some songs on at the jukebox in Le Jardin in LKF

Recommended reading for Hong Kong

Recommended watching for Hong Kong