by Richard Wright
Native Son Fate and Free Will Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Paragraph)
"You know one thing?" Big said.
"Sometimes I feel like something awful’s going to happen to me," Bigger spoke with a tinge of bitter pride in his voice.
"What you mean?" Gus asked, looking at him quickly. There was fear in Gus’s eyes.
"I don’t know. I just feel that way. 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. . . ."
"Aw, for Chrissakes! There ain’t nothing you can do about it. How come you want to worry yourself? You black and they make the laws. . . ."
"Why they make us live in one corner of the city? Why don’t they let us fly planes and run ships. . . ."
Gus hunched Bigger with his elbow and mumbled good-naturedly, "Aw, nigger, quit thinking about it. You’ll go nuts."
The plane was gone from the sky and the white plumes of floating smoke were thinly spread, vanishing. Because he was restless and had time on his hands, Bigger yawned again and hoisted his arms high above his head.
"Nothing ever happens," he complained.
"What you want to happen?"
"Anything," Bigger said with a wide sweep of his dingy palm, a sweep that included all the possible activities of the world.
Then their eyes were riveted; a slate-colored pigeon swooped down to the middle of the steel car tracks and began strutting to and fro with ruffled feathers, its fat neck bobbing with regal pride. A street car rumbled forward and the pigeon rose swiftly through the air on wings stretched so taut and sheer that Bigger could see the gold of the sun through their translucent tips. He tilted his head and watched the slate-colored bird flap and wheel out of sight over the edge of a high roof.
"Now, if I could only do that," Bigger said.
"Nigger, you nuts."
"I reckon we the only things in this city that can’t go where we want to go and do what we want to do."
"Don’t think about it," Gus said.
"I can’t help it."
"That’s why you feeling like something awful’s going to happen to you," Gus said. "You think too much."
"What in hell can a man do?" Bigger asked, turning to Gus.
"Get drunk and sleep it off."
"I can’t. I’m broke." (1.279-301)
Bigger realizes that his fate is tied intimately to the color of his skin; his choices are limited by the white citizens surrounding the South Side, even though he has almost no interaction with them. Though Gus tells him to stop thinking about it, Bigger’s onto something: he realizes that he’s trapped in a world where whites dictate what he can and can’t do, where he can and can’t go. He doesn’t even have enough money to get drunk about it because, once again, whites have denied him a decent paying wage for living.
"I’d just as soon go to jail as take that relief job." (1.470)
Bigger’s choices are extraordinarily limited. He can either live a life of crime, which will probably lead to jail, or take the one job that’s offered to him.
He felt that he had his destiny in his grasp. He was more alive than he could ever remember having been; his mind and attention were pointed, focused toward a goal. For the first time in his life he moved consciously between two sharply defined poles: he was moving away from the threatening penalty of death, from the deathlike times that brought him that tightness and hotness in his chest; and he was moving toward that sense of fullness he had so often but inadequately felt in magazines and movies.
The shame and fear and hate which Mary and Jan and Mr. Dalton and that huge rich house had made rise so hard and hot in him had now cooled and softened. Had he not done what they thought he never could? His being black and at the bottom of the world was something which he could take with a new-born strength. What his knife and gun had once meant to him, his knowledge of having secretly murdered Mary now meant. No matter how they laughed at him for his being black and clownlike he could look them in the eyes and not feel angry. The feeling of being always enclosed in the stifling embrace of an invisible force had gone from him. (2.843-844)
Inadvertently killing Mary allows Bigger to feel as if he has a choice for the first time in his life. Was killing Mary really an act of free will, or was it fated because of the situation Bigger found himself in?