Forced Friendliness in Native Son

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Native Son, written by esteemed author Richard Wright in 1940, centers around the life of a man named Bigger Thomas as he grows up in a poverty stricken Chicago in the 30s. One section recounts Bigger’s experience as he’s getting driven to a diner by two women, Jan and Mary. Just this excerpt in and of itself is enough to get us in the head of Bigger and the characters he interacts with. From what we can see, Bigger is a very resigned individual who doesn’t quite enjoy the company of others. This could be attributed to his status as an African American, which is most likely, or he just doesn’t prefer interacting with others very much. Jan and Mary are the characters that appear to act as the antagonists for Bigger, as its repeatedly revealed through Bigger’s body language that he is not comfortable with what the ladies want him to do, even if it’s something mundane like joining them for food at the diner. Bigger consistently appears uncomfortable around them, and sometimes it’s even hinted at him being sort of angry at them.

Once the ladies convince him to try some rum, he does end up opening up to them a bit more and reveals some details about his life in very short bursts. But why was he getting upset with them beforehand? I have a theory that it’s a commentary on those individuals who try to be overly welcoming to the African American community in the face of all the segregation and other such instances. But it’s such a forced friendliness that it feels faked and therefore not genuine, which may explain Bigger’s disdain for them early on in the excerpt. It really is a very real issue, or it was at least back in the day when the strive for equality was so great. False friendliness is a disturbing thing to be on the receiving end of, and Bigger’s interactions with the ladies seemingly gives off this idea of them acting like friends. (John Buchaniec / City of Stories)

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