Study Guide

Mr. Boris Max in Native Son

By Richard Wright

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Mr. Boris Max

Boris To The Max

At the end of Native Son, a book that can make you say "Humanity is jacked up" and crawl under the comforter with a pint of ice cream, we finally get Boris Max. And—get this—he's a lawyer. Mr. Max (can we call him Mad Max?) makes us want to un-tell all our favorite lawyer jokes and start studying for the LSAT.

Like Bigger, Max feels a deep sense of exclusion from American society. As a Jew and a Communist, he suffers in myriad ways because American society is dictated by the prejudices of the majority. Perhaps because of his own experiences living on the fringes of society, Max is willing and able to really listen to (and try to understand) Bigger’s life story:

"Mr. Max, a guy gets tired of being told what he can do and can’t do. You get a little job here and a little job there. You shine shoes, sweep streets; anything... You don’t make enough to live on. You don’t know when you going to get fired. Pretty soon you get so you can’t hope for nothing. You just keep moving all the time, doing what other folks say. You ain’t a man no more. You just work say in and day out so the world can roll on and other people can live. You know, Mr. Max, I always think of white folks..."

He paused. Max leaned forward and touched him. "Go on, Bigger." (3.1084-1086)

He sympathizes with the idea that factors outside of Bigger’s control created the conditions that caused Mary’s death. He makes a compelling argument for the judge that life inside prison would allow Bigger to live as a man among equals for the first time in his life.

Disappointed at his failure to convince the judge, Max takes on the burden to convince the governor to grant a stay of execution. He fails at that, too. However, in the final scene, despite Max’s sense of failure, he does connect with Bigger. He is ultimately the one who helps Bigger see his worth as a human being, no matter what he’s done or not done in the short time of his life.

Mr. Boris Max in Native Son Study Group

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