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The Effect of Racism on the Oppressed
Wright’s exploration of Bigger’s psychological corruption gives us a new perspective on the oppressive effect racism had on the black population in 1930s America. Bigger’s psychological damage results from the constant barrage of racist propaganda and racial oppression he faces while growing up. The movies he sees depict whites as wealthy sophisticates and blacks as jungle savages. He and his family live in cramped and squalid conditions, enduring socially enforced poverty and having little opportunity for education. Bigger’s resulting attitude toward whites is a volatile combination of powerful anger and powerful fear. He conceives of “whiteness” as an overpowering and hostile force that is set against him in life. Just as whites fail to conceive of Bigger as an individual, he does not really distinguish between individual whites—to him, they are all the same, frightening and untrustworthy. As a result of his hatred and fear, Bigger’s accidental killing of Mary Dalton does not fill him with guilt. Instead, he feels an odd jubilation because, for the first time, he has asserted his own individuality against the white forces that have conspired to destroy it.
Throughout the novel, Wright illustrates the ways in which white racism forces blacks into a pressured—and therefore dangerous—state of mind. Blacks are beset with the hardship of economic oppression and forced to act subserviently before their oppressors, while the media consistently portrays them as animalistic brutes. Given such conditions, as Max argues, it becomes inevitable that blacks such as Bigger will react with violence and hatred. However, Wright emphasizes the vicious double-edged effect of racism: though Bigger’s violence stems from racial hatred, it only increases the racism in American society, as it confirms racist whites’ basic fears about blacks. In Wright’s portrayal, whites effectively transform blacks into their own negative stereotypes of “blackness.” Only when Bigger meets Max and begins to perceive whites as individuals does Wright offer any hope for a means of breaking this circle of racism. Only when sympathetic understanding exists between blacks and whites will they be able to perceive each other as individuals, not merely as stereotypes.
Also identity is a big one,
In Book Three, the theme of identity is developedmostly in the scenes where Bigger prepares to face his death in the electric chair. In these final moments, Bigger must struggle to "come to terms" with what he has done and what he has become. In this regard, Bigger's identity crisis is more of a struggle to separate his own impressions from the projections of the racist society around him. Even as Bigger must accept responsibility for his crimes, he faces the complex task of asserting his own worth even as he can't ignore his crime. When Bigger is involved in the process of asserting his own worth, he finds that he is in a trap because he has been unable to act upon all of the dreams that he has. Bigger wants to define himself as an aviator or even as the leader of his gang, but these are all ultimately false. One important thing to note is that Wright's treatment of the identity theme resembles the philosophies expounded in several existentialist works. In particular, the prison scenes toward the end of the novel are intended to hearken back to the works of Wright's favorite writer, Dostoevsky. Particularly after his rejection of established religion, Bigger has the existentialist burden of searching for meaning in life without the traditional support systems offered by the church or other social structures. By the end of Native Son, it seems that Bigger is one man who is doomed to fight against the machinery of a hostile world.