Study Guide

Native Son Criminality

By Richard Wright

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This novel asks who is to blame for criminality—the criminal or the society that the criminal lives in? Native Son suggests that the society creates the criminal. A lawyer in the novel implies that punishing (or giving the death sentence to) a murderer, doesn’t solve the larger problem.

Society must change in order to end criminality. In addition, the storyline in Native Son suggests that a mob mentality influences the justice system, and thus justice is also operating under a criminal mentality.

Questions About Criminality

  1. What environmental, social, and physical factors lead to criminal behavior, according to ideas suggested in Native Son?
  2. Who are the criminals in this novel and what did they do to be called criminals? Is this fair?
  3. According to Jan Erlone, who is guilty of murder and why? Do you agree with what he says?

Chew on This

According this book, although Bigger is responsible for his own actions, his criminal behavior was a product of the environment in which he was raised. Thus, the judge should have been more lenient on Bigger.

Even though Bigger’s crimes are understandable, they are still reprehensible and he should be punished to the full extent of the law. The judge’s decision was still the right decision to make.

Native Son Criminality Study Group

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