Book 24: Native Son, Aug 15

Posted on 20.08.2014

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9780061935411_p0_v1_s260x42024. Native Son, Richard Wright  (Aug 15)
I’m not really sure what I was thinking, going straight from Fear of Flying into this book, but I think I may have been looking for something that was on the opposite end of the rants of Erica Jong. Not that they were terrible, but it was a very verbose book, and I wanted to move at a different pace. I had had Native Son in my list for a while, and thought that should be next.

Initially, I had meant to read this book in the middle of 2012, as it was on my list of books to read that MIGHT have been used in the syllabus of my American Cultural Studies class at the university in Germany. I couldn’t get it sent to me fast enough, though, and ended up using The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn instead, for the segment on racism. I had this story on the list because it had been banned a few times in the states, but ALSO because it’s on the list of Barack Obama’s favorite books, and since it would have been presented at the time just after the election, it would have tied in well.

Honestly, Huck Finn was the much easier choice to deal with racism and old, outdated ideas, as the writing was simpler, but also, not so long-winded. Because seriously, this book gets LONG. There are 2 monologues in the court scene at the end that seem to GO ON FOREVER. This isn’t a terrible thing, but it would have been hard to pull ONE excerpt that concisely got the point of the book across.

I’ve started to notice lately, that a lot of great books begin by slapping you in the face with something terrible, a tragedy of sorts. This one is no different, even though the beginning may not seem like a tragedy, it is in its own, historical way. A family of 5 sleeping in one bed, living in one room? In the first scene? That’s offing tragic in its own right. So right after the first scene, I knew it would be good.

I have to say, as a white American living NOW, who totally missed these parts of history and whose family arrived in America in the 20’s, the book almost came off as unbelievable at times. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Clearly, the story is representative of the treatment that African Americans actually received which was common, but there were some parts that felt as if it was being laid on really, really thick. Almost the entire end monologue (and the one that proceeded it) from the prosecutor felt so thoroughly racist (and insanely modern, right-wing) that all I could do was HOPE that white people didn’t actually speak of blacks like this back then.

At the same time, to read of Bigger’s absolute hatred and anger was difficult, too. I couldn’t really understand it or empathise that much with him, and it didn’t help that Wright effectively wrote him as a selfish narcissist. I’m not sure if we were supposed to related to him or not, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t. I did, however, spend a lot of time trying to figure out what I’d have done differently.

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Posted in: books, reviews