Native Son -- Marxism and Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

(Wright, 1940, p. 334) Rather than Christian suffering and forbearance of societal ills, Marxism provides a clear contrast in its attempted explanation of suffering in the world as an economic as well as a racially-based class conflict. The chauffer and servant was placed near wealth, luxury, and a society that deemed him barbaric, and both White and Black, wealthy and poor representatives of this unequal class and racial division were harmed as a result

When Wright later renounced communism, he did so because he confessed that his infatuation with the ideology was more personal than economic. "It was not the economics of Communism, nor the great power of trade unionism, nor the excitement of underground politics that claimed me; my attention was caught by the similarity of the experiences of workers in other lands, by the possibility of uniting scattered but kindred peoples into a whole...In my concrete relations with others I had encountered nothing to encourage me to believe in my feelings. It had been by denying what I saw with my eyes, disputing what I felt with my body, that I had managed to keep my identity intact. But it seemed to me that here at last in the realm of revolutionary expression was where Negro experience could find a home, a functioning value and role." (Wright, 1970, pp.62-64)

Wright's identification with communism was less that of a worker who was oppressed by a societal ideology, but a man who felt estranged from his own identity as an American and a human being -- thus Wright's Marxism, it might be said, was more existentialist in tone than it was socialist. Some critics have seen this effort as a failure upon the part of Wright, writing that "in some ways the novel refuses to let go of its commitment to Bigger's I am," as socialism calls its political adherents to do so. "Is Wright's commitment finally to Marxist idea of collective identity (we) or the existentialist belief in private experience (I)?...[So] what about the novel we've read? Does it resolve the various contradictions, between Max's (white) voice and Bigger's (black) experience? Between importance of the individual only as social symbol & the value and meaning of individual "I am"? Between Max's faith that only social change can make life meaningful and Bigger's private quest for "freedom," control, life itself?" (Railton, 2005)

Another critic, John M. Reilly states that Wright's novel "by use of a narrative point-of-view that draws readers beneath the externals of surface realism," is most effective upon its existential level, for it encourages readers, both Black and White to be "led into empathy with Bigger," a man who does not emerge first and foremost as an empathetic character. Through empathy, readers are more likely to eschew "the conventional attitudes of American racial discourse." (Reilly, 1990, p. 46). And through the use of the lieteray device of empathy, positive relations between Black and White men, and Black men and White women, despite the occasionally dismal picture rendered by the novel, are rendered possible. Through empathy beyond the narrow constructs that cause society to see only Bigger's color, and create a climate of fear that preciptates him into violent action, existentialist views of the empowering freedom of the self outside of societal and constraining views provide the ultimate liberation -- rather than viewing society only in Marxist terms of class-based roles that merely create new constructs of being and the self.

Works Cited

Descorte, Damon Marcel. "To Blot it all Out: The Politics of Reason in Richard Wright's Native Son." Style. Spring 1998.

Railton, Stephen. "Third Wright Lecture." April, 19, 2005.

Reilly, John M. "Giving Bigger a Voice: The Politics of Narrative in Native Son." New Essays on Native Son. Ed. Keneth Kinnamon. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. pp. 35-62.

Wright, Richard. Native Son. New York: HarperCollins, 1940.

Wright, Richard. American Hunger. New York: Harper & Row, 1977. pp. 62-64

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