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Native Son

Native Son

4.3 167
by Richard Wright, Peter Francis James (Read by)

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Widely acclaimed as one of the finest books ever written on race and class divisions in America, this powerful novel reflects the forces of poverty, injustice, and hopelessness that continue to shape out society.


Widely acclaimed as one of the finest books ever written on race and class divisions in America, this powerful novel reflects the forces of poverty, injustice, and hopelessness that continue to shape out society.

Editorial Reviews

Gloria Naylor
Native Son taught me that it's all right to have passion within your work.
Publishers Weekly

Wright's classic 1940 novel about a young African-American man who murders a white woman in 1930s Chicago is a truly remarkable literary accomplishment. Peter Francis James has never been better, bringing the character of Bigger Thomas to life in a profound and moving performance that is as touching as it is truthful. James's powerful baritone demands to be heard, captivating listeners with Wright's realistic portrayal of life in the inner city, capturing the mood of each and every scene. With moderate yet believable variations in tone and dialect for each of the characters, James ignites the collective imagination of his audience. Wright's novel is real, raw and brutally honest and James's reading follows suit. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Sacred Fire
Richard Wright was born in 1908, thc first of two sons of a sharecropper. After publishing his first novel, Uncle Tom's Children, in 1938, Wright discovered to his alarm that "he had written a book which even bankers" daughters could read and feel good about. He swore that his next novel would be different. That book was Native Son, the story of Bigger Thomas's short and tragic life, which plumbs the blackest depths of human experience.

Native Son is told in three parts —Fear, Flight, and Fate— which sum up, perfectly, Bigger Thomas's life. Badly in need of a job to help support his family, the ne'er-do-well Bigger goes to work as a driver for the Daltons, a rich white family. As he is pulled every which way by his mother, who wanted him to do the things she wanted him to do; by Mrs. Dalton, who wanted him to do the things she felt that he should have wanted to do; by Mary Dalton, the young mistress of the house, who challenged him to stand up for things he didn't understand; and by his need for independence and autonomy in the midst of a dependent situation—he missteps, accidentally killing Mary.

Native Son is not an uplifting book with a happy Hollywood resolution. It has been criticized for its cardboard portrayal of black pathology and heavy-handed Marxist message. But the book is an absolutely gripping potboiler that is also intellectually provocative. It is on one level a seedy, simple story of an unsympathetic character meeting his fate at his own hands, and on another an illuminating drama of an individual consciousness that challenges traditional definitions of heroism, character, and integrity. Bigger was less a character caught in a specific criminal activity than he was a crime waiting to happen.

Peter Monro Jack
The story is a strong and powerful one and it alone will force the Negro issue to our attention. Certainly, Native Son declares Richard Wright's importance, not merely as the best Negro writer, but as an American author as distinctive as any of those now writing.-- Books of the Century; New York Times review, March 1940

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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5.60(w) x 5.88(h) x 2.19(d)

Read an Excerpt

Native Son

Chapter One
Book One: Fear


An alarm clock clanged in the dark and silent room. A bed spring creaked. A woman's voice sang out impatiently:

"Bigger, shut that thing off!"

A surly grunt sounded above the tinny ring of metal. Naked feet swished dryly across the planks in the wooden floor and the clang ceased abruptly.

"Turn on the light, Bigger."

"Awright," came a sleepy mumble.

Light flooded the room and revealed a black boy standing in a narrow space between two iron beds, rubbing his eyes with the backs of his hands. From a bed to his right the woman spoke again:

"Buddy, get up from there! I got a big washing on my hands today and I want you-all out of here."

Another black boy rolled from bed and stood up. The woman also rose and stood in her nightgown.

"Turn your heads so I can dress," she said.

The two boys averted their eyes and gazed into a far comer of the room. The woman rushed out, of her nightgown and put on a pair of step-ins. She turned to the bed from which she had risen and called:

"Vera! Get up from there!"

"What time is it, Ma?" asked a muffled, adolescent voice from beneath a quilt.

"Get up from there, I say!"

"O.K., Ma."

A brown-skinned girl in a cotton gown got up and stretched her arms above her head and yawned. Sleepily, she sat on a chair and fumbled with her stockings. The two boys kept their faces averted while their mother and sister put on enough clothes to keep them from feeling ashamed; and the mother and sister did the same while the boysdressed. Abruptly, they all paused, holding their clothes in their hands, their attention caught by a light tapping in the thinly plastered walls of the room. They forgot their conspiracy against shame and their eyes strayed apprehensively over the floor.

"There he is again, Bigger!" the woman screamed, and the tiny, one-room apartment galvanized into violent action. A chair toppled as the woman, half-dressed and in her stocking feet, scrambled breathlessly upon the bed. Her two sons, barefoot, stood tense and motionless, their eyes searching anxiously under the bed and chairs. The girl ran into a corner, half-stooped and gathered the hem of her slip into both of her hands and held it tightly over her knees.

"Oh! Oh! " she waited.

"There he goes!"

The woman pointed a shaking finger. Her eyes were round with fascinated horror.


"I don't see 'im!"

"Bigger, he's behind the trunk!" the girl whimpered.

"Vera!" the woman screamed. "Get up here on the bed! Don't let that thing bite you!"

Frantically, Vera climbed upon the bed and the woman caught hold of her. With their arms entwined about each other, the black mother and the brown daughter gazed open-mouthed at the trunk in the corner.

Bigger looked round the room wildly, then darted to a curtain and swept it aside and grabbed two heavy iron skillets from a wall above a gas stove. He whirled and called softly to his brother, his eyes glued to the trunk.



"Here; take this skillet."


"Now, get over by the door!"


Buddy crouched by the door and held the iron skillet by its handle, his arm flexed and poised. Save for the quick, deep breathing of the four people, the room was quiet. Bigger crept on tiptoe toward the trunk with the skillet clutched stiffly in his hand, his eyes dancing and watching every inch of the wooden floor in front of him. He paused and, without moving an eye or muscle, called:



"Put that box in front of the hole so he can't get out!"


Buddy ran to a wooden box and shoved it quickly in front of a gaping hole in the molding and then backed again to the door, holding the skillet ready. Bigger eased to the trunk and peered behind it cautiously. He saw nothing. Carefully, he stuck out his bare foot and pushed the trunk a few inches.

"There he is!" the mother screamed again.

A huge black rat squealed and leaped at Bigger's trouser-leg and snagged it in his teeth, hanging on.

"Goddamn!" Bigger whispered fiercely, whirling and kicking out his leg with all the strength of his body. The force of his movement shook the rat loose and it sailed through the air and struck a wall. Instantly, it rolled over and leaped again. Bigger dodged and the rat landed against a table leg. With clenched teeth, Bigger held the skillet; he was afraid to hurl it, fearing that he might miss. The rat squeaked and turned and ran in a narrow circle, looking for a place to hide; it leaped again past Bigger and scurried on dry rasping feet to one side of the box and then to the other, searching for the hole. Then it turned and reared upon its hind legs.

"Hit 'im, Bigger!" Buddy shouted.

"Kill 'im! " the woman screamed.

The rat's belly pulsed with fear. Bigger advanced a step and the rat emitted a long thin song of defiance, its black beady eyes glittering, its tiny forefeet pawing the air restlessly. Bigger swung the skillet; it skidded over the floor, missing the rat, and clattered to a stop against a wall.


The rat leaped. Bigger sprang to one side. The rat stopped under a chair and let out a furious screak. Bigger moved slowly backward toward the door.

"Gimme that skillet, Buddy," he asked quietly, not taking his eyes from the rat.

Buddy extended his hand. Bigger caught the skillet and lifted it high in the air. The rat scuttled across the floor and stopped again at the box and searched quickly for the hole; then it reared once more and bared long yellow fangs, piping shrilly, belly quivering.

Bigger aimed and let the skillet fly with a heavy grunt. There was a shattering of wood as the box caved in. The woman screamed and hid her face in her hands. Bigger tiptoed forward and peered.

"I got 'im," he muttered, his clenched teeth bared in a smile. "By God, I got 'im. "

He kicked the splintered box out of the way and the flat black body of the rat lay exposed, its two long yellow tusks showing distinctly. Bigger took a shoe and pounded the rat's head, crushing it, cursing hysterically:

"You sonofabitch!"

Native Son. Copyright (c) by Richard Wright . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Irving Howe
The day Native Son appeared, American culture was changed forever.

Meet the Author

Richard Wright won international renown for his powerful and visceral depiction of the black experience. He stands today alongside such African-American luminaries as Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and two of his books, Native Son and Black Boy, are required reading in high schools and colleges across the nation. He died in 1960.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
September 4, 1908
Date of Death:
November 28, 1960
Place of Birth:
Near Natchez, Mississippi
Place of Death:
Paris, France
Smith-Robertson Junior High in Jackson, Mississippi (1925)

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Native Son 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 167 reviews.
DeDeFlowers More than 1 year ago
I am one to shy away from books about race. A lot of times I find it hard to relate or I find them to be boring or too graphic. I read this book because it was on a list of the 100 best books ever written and it is my goal to read them all to check out the hype. I really did not want to read Native Son. From the first sentence of the first page I knew this was going to be something special. Wright's writing is captivating and the characters he builds are so real. Even if you cannot relate to this book personally, you will be able to relate to the emotions the main character Bigger Thomas is feeling. It is an amazing thing to be engrossed so deeply into a book as I was with this one. The plot is unique, especially as far as books about race go. Surprisingly this is also a very fast read. For a couple reasons: you cannot put it down and it is written very matter-of-fact. I can see why kids in high school might not want to read this. It's long and seems out of date. To be honest it might even go over a lot of the heads in a regular English class. I feel like this novel is for anyone though. It's important. This book is on my list of best books ever...which only had 11 books prior. That is a big deal! Read it :)
bluetulip18 More than 1 year ago
Along with Invisible Man, Native Son is another powerful story that has schooled me on what W.E.B. Du Bois might have meant by "double consciouness": African Americans' tendency to see themselves through the eyes of others. Bigger, the main character, judges himself by society's stereotypes, and a profound fear of whites drives his every action (including a heinous crime so vividly described I had to put the book down for awhile). It's mind-boggling and tragic to think how much a person can truly become what society expects and assumes he'll be. Difficult story to swallow; an emotional, memorable read.
ECooper-Columbus More than 1 year ago
Richard Wright¿s depiction on race relations in the 1940's was parallel to the thinking of most Black and White Americans today. We saw that with the newly elected president. I found this book a much needed read, not to conjure up racial tension but as a reminder of how we, Black and White Americans need to continue to strive for racial equality. He talked about how the price of food is higher in one section than another, how redlining occured than, which is another parallel of today¿s housing market. I, as a teacher, will use this book as a teaching tool to inspire my children to release pinned up anger by talking to an adult or someone they trust; use Bigger's lack of education to inspire them to stay in school. There are so many teaching tools that you can be pulled from this book and used as inspiration. The relevance of this book is still very useful today. It is a great read, I couldn't put it down.
rapragdoll More than 1 year ago
Native Son was the hardest book to read that I've ever read. It was so detailed about negative emotions and vile acts that I had to stop reading and found it at times hard to go on. I read it of my own free will and don't feel I wasted time but would have enjoyed another book better. It's to negative for me even if the point is very original and dramatic,it's a great debate to a side I do not agree with but see it's points.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a different read for me but I did like this book. This book goes to show that till this day life will always be hard for people of the black community .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel was both poignant and thought-provoking. I was surprised by how fast i was able to read this book-Richard Wrights' writing style is truly exceptional. This is probably one of the best books i've ever read. Once you've read this book, you'll understand as to how we can all relate to Bigger Thomas, no matter your race.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books in the world besides black boy and autobbiography of malcolm x
Anonymous 4 months ago
Definately not pleasure reading. Deeply disturbing. Violent and graphic.
Anonymous 6 months ago
The novel “Native Son” written by Richard Wright is a classic novel that portrays African American life through a number of different themes. The book exhibits exceptional detail and nearly allows you to walk in the shoes of Bigger Thomas, a young victim of racism. The treatment Bigger experiences throughout the novel drives him to commit unspeakable acts. It just further proves that the way you are raised has a lot - if not everything to do with your fate. I highly recommend this book, as it gives you a taste of not only African American lives, but other minority groups as well.
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Review of Native Son by Will on May 25, 2014 Native Son was a very powerful and inspirational book that discussed the clashes of races in America. Richard Wright, a  very controversial author wrote many books about the clash between whites and blacks. Wright was obviously a huge supporter  for desegregating the population of America. This book demonstrates the unequal treatment of blacks in the mid 1900's  and the start to  what we now know as racism. I can relate the theme of this book to the struggles of society today, dealing with cliques and the bullying that  is associated with these different groups.  This novel is broken up into three different books which separate the main issues in the novel. The first book discusses some of the  troubles and the terrible life and hardships that blacks had to face in this time period. The main character, Bigger Thomas gets into trouble  with the law in Book One. The novel climaxes in Book Two and ends with a resolution in Book Three.  This book was a very interesting read because of the perspective that was shown from a African American author.  This book is absolutely related to the racism that we have in society today. As a white person myself it truly understood the hardships that blacks had to face to get to the point where they are now. This book made me absolutely against racism and every person on this world should be treated equally. This book is a must read to be able to understand the injustices of society. 
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I have read his book, Black Boy, so this should be also a good book.
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...well, because of the content...not the writing. I made myself finish it, but now I'm glad I did. It made me read more about the author, then I could understand why he wrote what he did, like he did. I will look up some of his other works. I would bet that I feel much the same about them, too. :) I can see why this book gives classes and book clubs discussion material.
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