Native Son

Bigger Than Society: Existentialism in Native Son 11th Grade

Existentialism emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will. Contrarily, environmental determinism suggests that society shapes individuals, allowing for little personal motive. In Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son, a young black man named Bigger is faced with constant fear from oppressive societal tendencies, yet is inclined to define himself by his actions in order to find identity. An existential sense of morality elicits behavior which opposes societal norms, while natural moral code results in conformity. Although Bigger is the product of an oppressive, fear stricken society, his fundamental need for self determined identity prompts him to embrace his actions.


Wright suggests throughout the novel that ingrained societal tendencies determine Bigger’s existence and behavior, implying that environmental determinism supersedes and corrupts his free will. Max, Bigger’s communist lawyer, insists that society has instilled fear in blacks and stripped them of their individuality: “they are powerless pawns in a blind play of social forces” (390). Through this Communist perspective, Max argues that white society is to blame for Bigger’s...

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