Study Guide

Native Son Family

By Richard Wright

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Buddy opened out a newspaper and covered the smear of blood on the floor where the rat had been crushed. Bigger went to the window and stood looking out abstractedly into the street. His mother glared at his back.

"Bigger, sometimes I wonder why I birthed you," she said bitterly…

…"Suppose you wake up some morning and find your sister dead? What would you think then?" she asked. "Suppose those rats cut our veins at night when we sleep? Naw! Nothing like that ever bothers you! All you care about is your own pleasure! Even when the relief offers you a job you won’t take it till they threaten to cut off your food and starve you! Bigger, honest, you the most no-countest man I ever seen in my life!"

"You done told me that a thousand times," he said not looking round. (1.87-1.111)

We begin to see the family dynamics at the Thomas household and they’re hardly heartwarming. Though Ma tries to remind Bigger of his responsibilities, and the sentiment he should hold towards his sister, Bigger holds them at an emotional distance. He doesn’t have a place where he can feel comfortable; even at home, he’s constantly harangued by his mother. If comfort is home, there seems to be no place Bigger can call "home."

"They’re Christian people and believe in everybody working hard. And living a clean life. Some people think we ought to have more servants than we do, but we get along. It’s just like one big family."


"Mr. Dalton’s a fine man," Peggy said.

"Oh, yessum. He is."

"You know, he does a lot for your people."

"My people?" asked Bigger, puzzled.

"Yes, the colored people. He gave over five million dollars to colored schools."


"But Mrs. Dalton’s the one who’s really nice. If it wasn’t for her, he would not be doing what he does. She made him rich. She had millions when he married her. Of course, he made a lot of money himself afterwards out of real estate. But most of the money’s hers. She’s blind, poor thing. She lost her sight ten years ago. Did you see her yet?"

"Yessum." (1.872-180)

As Peggy gossips with Bigger about the family he’s come to work for, she explains that they’re good people and that they treat their servants well—like family. Of course, this comment by a white servant is put into sharp relief when contrasted with Bigger’s treatment as a black man.

Bigger sat at the table and waited for food. Maybe this would be the last time he would eat here. He felt it keenly and it helped him to have patience. Maybe some day he would be eating in jail. Here he was sitting with them and they did not know that he had murdered a white girl and cut her head off and burnt her body. The thought of what he had done, the awful horror of it, the daring associated with such actions, formed for him for the first time in his fear-ridden life a barrier of protection between himself and a world he feared. He had murdered and created a new life for himself. It was something that was all his own, and it was the first time in his life he had had anything that others could not take from him. Yes; he could sit here calmly and eat and not be concerned about what his family thought or did. He had a natural wall from behind which he could look at them… He was outside of his family now, over and beyond them…(2.131)

Bigger’s crime makes him feel impenetrable, completely separated from his family.

"How you l-l-like them sewing classes at the Y, Vera?" he asked.

"Bigger," his mother sobbed, trying to talk through her tears. "Bigger, honey, she won’t go to school no more. She says the other girls look at her and make her ‘shamed…."

He had lived and acted on the assumption that he was alone, and now he saw that he had not been. What he had done made others suffer. No matter how much he would long for them to forget him, they would not be able to. His family was a part of him, not only in blood, but in spirit. He sat on the cot and his mother knelt at his feet. Her face was lifted to his; her eyes were empty, eyes that looked upward when the last hope of earth had failed. (3.223-226)

Bigger realizes that his actions are not his alone—he was never actually separate from his family. What he has done affects them more than he had realized.

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