Study Guide

Mary Dalton in Native Son

By Richard Wright

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Mary Dalton

Mary Mary, Quite Contrary

Mary Dalton, the only daughter of a wealthy capitalist in Chicago, rebels the only way she knows how: she starts dating a Communist. (We could have suggested throwing wet towels on the carpet and refusing to pick them up, but that's just us. We were James Dean-caliber rebels, can't you tell?)

Her attempts to break free from her family’s wealth lead her to do numerous crazy things. She wants to transcend her privileged status, but she doesn’t realize just how privileged she is. Like her boyfriend Jan, she’s clueless that her attempts to befriend Bigger make him feel ashamed and afraid. She's also unaware just quite how belittling she's being:

(Mary): "Say, Jan, do you know many N****es? I want to meet some."

"I don’t know any very well. But you’ll meet them when you’re in the Party."

"They have so much emotion! What a people! If we could ever get them going..."

"We can’t have a revolution without ‘em," Jan said. "They’ve got to be organized. They’ve got spirit. They’ll give the Party something it needs."

"And their songs—the spirituals! Aren’t they marvelous?" Bigger saw her turn to him. "Say, Bigger, can you sing?" (1.1208-1211)

Ugh. That scene makes us so squeamish.

When Mary gets drunk, she has no idea that she is putting Bigger into a situation where he simply can’t win. There can be no good outcome for him by taking her upstairs to her bedroom when she is drunk. Her inability to see beyond her own immediate desire to befriend Bigger suggests that, ultimately, she may be too self-focused to see outside of herself. She wants to save the world, but knows far too little about it.

Mary Dalton in Native Son Study Group

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