Write short notes on any of the following themes of the novel: Racial discrimination; conflict; exploitation; fear/hate.
This is the most outstanding theme in the story. There is a drawn line between whites and blacks in America. Infact, the notorious cult, Ku Klux Klan perpetuates this racism by brutally confronting and dehumanizing coloured people. Blacks do not live in white suburbs. They are not allowed to mix with whites at school, in the church, in hotels, inside buses. Even if the blacks have the money, they are not allowed to associate with whites. This can be seen in the following statements:
“Down here in Dixie, we keep Negroes firmly in their places and we make them know that if they so much as touch a white woman, good or bad, they cannot live.” (p.311)
The blacks in Southside are not allowed equal educational opportunities, they are denied voting rights. They employ them to do menial jobs for little pay, yet, they charge the blacks exorbitant rents. Bigger Thomas is called all sorts of derogatory names such as black ape, black monkey, and black murderer. It is even told that whites who commit worse crimes against blacks are not even arrested nor questioned.
Mr. Buckley and the presiding judge do not hide their hatred and racial prejudice against Bigger Thomas. To them, such a “black ape” cannot commit such a crime against the daughter of a wealthy philanthropist and well known white man and get away with it. There is no gain saying therefore that all the submissions of Max in defence of Bigger Thomas fall on deaf ear simply because, Bigger Thomas is a black and does not deserve to live and of course he is found guilty and sentenced to death.
THEME OF CONFLICT
There is an initial conflict between mother and son over the issue of job. Mrs. Thomas warms her son, to leave his bad gang and take up the job at Dalton’s. He refuses, prompting the mother to make a prophetic statement: “If you don’t stop running with that gang of yours and do right, you’ll end up where you never thought you would…”
Again, there is a minor squabble between Bigger and Vera, his sister. After killing the big rat, he brandishes it to Vera who momentarily faints out of fear, thus incurring the scolding of his mother. At Doc’s poolroom, the gang, Bigger, Jack, Gus and G.H plan to rob Mr. Blum’s shop. There is a minor disagreement between Bigger and Gus. Bigger even threatens to cut his throat, and Gus surrenders.
When Jan Erlone is arrested, Mr. Dalton makes it clear that he never agrees with Jan notwithstanding that he dates his only daughter. Again, he is an arch opponent of the communists, to which Jan belongs.
Bessie disagrees to Bigger’s kidnap plot and she’s beaten up, raped and brutally killed to prevent her from exposing his crime against Miss Dalton.
THEME OF EXPLOITATION
The story of Native Son is a story of man’s inhumanity to man. It is characterized by exploitation. Mr. Dalton is a rich man He is the owner of a Real Estate Company controlling the houses in Southside. He charges eight dollars per week on a small rat-infested room. In return, he pretends to be philanthropic and makes a five million dollar donation to the black community to enhance their education and well-being after exploiting them through outrageous rents. He employs people and pretends to be no kind so as to retain them over a long period while paying them a small amount of money which pay their white counterparts. Bigger Thomas is employed by Mr. Henry Dalton but he is given a room at the back of the house. He is to drive Mr. Dalton and his daughter and still do other house chores as may be decided by Daltons.
Bigger Thomas does not truly love Bessie, He only exploits her for his selfish interest. That is why he does not feel for her as he rapes and brutally murders her. Generally, it is not only Bigger Thomas that is exploited the black are collectively or individually exploited by the whites.
THEME OF FEAR/HATE
The theme of fear and hate are paramount in the context of the story. First is the fear of the rat and the panic that results there from. Next, the gang plans a robbery at Blum shop. Bigger is threatened by fear of going to rob a white man and the consequences He hates to be told that he is afraid. For this fear, he fights Gus before taking up the job at Dalton’s house. On his arrival, he meets Mr. Dalton. His first encounter with Miss Mary Dalton reveals yet his hatred for her even without seeing her before then. This hatred pushes him to kill the girl in their first outing, He burns her body in a furnace,
He confides in Bessie, his girl friend who is visibly frightened by the act. Bigger rapes and kills her through fear of being exposed by her. In his hatred for the whites, Bigger frames up Jan Erlone, Mary’s boy friend even when Jan tries to be friendly. Mr. Dalton on his part hates Jan Erlone and his communist party because of their doctrine of equality of races which the whites hate to hear, Bigger Thomas still attacks an officer of the law in the building where he hides. This is as a result of fear of being caught.
On their part, the officers and indeed the angry mob insist that Mr. Bigger Thomas be tortured. They treat him crudely out of sheer hatred not just for the crime he has committed The prosecution counsel and the presiding judge do not hide their hatred for Mr. Bigger Thomas. Max, Bigger lawyer even implies in his defence that the injustice that is meted out to Bigger is borne out of hatred for the blacks. Finally, Bigger Thomas fears death and hates to think about it. He hopes that the whole thing ends so that this life, ruled by fear and hate will finally end.