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1940s Classics

Native Son by Richard Wright

Native Son (Vintage classics)

Five words from the blurb: black, prejudiced, poverty, death, crime

Native Son was originally published in 1940. It became a best seller, catapulting its black American author, Richard Wright, into fame and controversy. The book highlights the deep racism that was present within America at the time and is one of the most important books written within the last century. I only discovered its existence last month, but I loved everything about it.  I’m shocked it isn’t well known within the UK, but I aim to spread the word as far as I can.

The story focuses on Bigger Thomas, a black American who accidentally murders a young white woman. His crime highlights the deep divide between blacks and whites, showing the hatred and prejudice present on both sides.

I know I oughtn’t think about it, but I can’t help it. Every time I think about it I feel like somebody’s poking a red-hot iron down my throat. Goddammit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain’t. They do things and we can’t. It’s like living in jail. Half the time I feel like I’m on the outside of the world peeping in through a knot-hole in the fence.

Bigger’s character was fantastic. Richard Wright’s skill as an author enabled me to feel immense sympathy for him (and other criminals in a similar situation). By explaining the difficulties Bigger had faced since birth I was able to understand his actions and root for him throughout the book.

Native Son has everything a good novel needs – it is gripping, enlightening and contains vivid characters who are all flawed in a realistic manner. Most of this book reads like a thriller – I was on the edge of my seat throughout, unable to put the book down. Occasionally I wanted to avert my eyes from the disturbing scenes, but all the violence was necessary to explain the problems within the society.

The final section of the book is more political in nature, explaining the history of racism within the US. It slowed the pace of the book down, but by that point I was so invested in the characters that I didn’t mind this unusual change of style. It was fantastic to see a well written piece of fiction given such a strong historical grounding.

This is the best American novel I’ve ever read and I think you’ll struggle to find a book that does a better job of highlighting the racism present within 1940s society.

Highly recommended.

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13 replies on “Native Son by Richard Wright”

Great review. I am a big fan of this book, as well. In both Native Son and Black Boy (Wright’s autobiography/memoir of sorts) there was a moment that was completely revelatory for me–an aha! moment in which Wright did an amazing job of explaining exactly what it’s like to be a black man in a racist society, all within just a short paragraph. If you liked Native Son this much, you’d love Black Boy, too.

Heather, I`m looking forward to reading Black Boy now. I can’t imagine it being as good as Native Son, but some authors are capable of producing two outstanding books so I`ll keep my fingers crossed that I enjoy it just as much.

Holy cow lady. You make it difficult not to want to go out and read it now. It isn’t easy for a book to get five stars from you. Nice review, and excellent job of convincing me to stop what I am doing to and figure out how to best get my hands on this.

Great review! I read Native Son book for the first time this January and I was blown away. I experienced so many emotions while reading it and like you said, the first half is so fast-paced I had a hard time putting it down. I’m also surprised to learn it isn’t more well-known in the UK, but I’m happy you’re spreading the word. :)

I think I need to add this to my to-read list, not just because it describes the racial tension and struggle so vividly, but also because I’m reading up on the American Civil War / Reconstruction period and I would like to know more about slavery & the abolition of it in the US.

Thanks for highlighting Native Son, Jackie, I hope that many others will also give it a go.

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