Throughout Native Son, Bigger Thomas experiences many different emotions in response to the various things happening in his life. The most dominant emotions that Bigger suffers from are fear, shame, and hate. During most of the novel, Bigger is haunted by his own emotions. He rarely feels any emotion of joy, happiness, or contentment. Bigger constantly lives his life in fear of the white race and feels shame for being black. This fear stems from the dominion whites have over blacks.
This dominion keeps Bigger and other blacks from being able to control their own lives, and this ultimately causes Bigger’s shame. Bigger and his family live in poverty, and the fact that he cannot change their living conditions contributes to most of his shame. The fear and shame leads Bigger to feel hate towards himself, his family and friends, and of course, the whites controlling him. In the beginning of Native Son, Bigger is trying to kill a large, menacing rat in his family’s crowded one bedroom apartment. He has to tussle with the rat before he finally ends up killing it.
This fight symbolizes how Bigger and his family must live in fear while struggling to survive. Poverty burdens Bigger because he is the man of the family, a role he undoubtedly hates. “He hated his family because he knew that they were suffering and that he was powerless to help them. He knew that the moment he allowed himself to feel to its fullness how they lived, the same and misery of their lives, he would be swept out of himself with fear and despair. ” (Wright 13) Through limitations from whites, Bigger lacks the ability to better his family’s life.
The constant nagging he receives from his mother also causes Bigger to feel hatred towards them. Bigger’s mother also contributes to the shame Bigger feels. After Bigger is apprehended for Mary’s murder, Mrs. Thomas pleads at the feet of Mrs. Dalton that she will not let “’em” kill her boy (Wright 301) Bigger feels immediate shame because his powerless mother is begging a white woman to save the life of her even more powerless son. “Bigger’s shame for his mother amounted to hate. He stood with clenched fists, his eyes burning. He felt that in another moment he would have leaped at her. (Wright 302) Throughout Bigger’s life, he resents and fears the white race because they have control over things he wishes he himself only had power over. He fears being powerless, but has no choice because he is black and not white. In this case, Bigger’s life or death lies in the hands of a group of whites, which causes him to fear and hate them. Furthermore, the hatred Bigger has for whites results from a lack of freedom to do whatever he wants with his life. In the novel, Bigger states how “they get a chance to do everything,” referring to whites.
He later tells Gus that he cannot get used to how whites are able to do anything while he is not allowed to make any choices for his own life. “Why they make us live in one corner of the city? Why don’t they let us fly planes and run ships…” Certainly, Bigger wants to do more with his life. He desires to do the things and live where only whites are currently allowed. Later, Bigger learns that he also wants to connect to others, something he has never done before. Once Jan speaks to Bigger, he realizes that Mary and Jan were only trying to treat him as an equal to them.
Additionally, when Max speaks with Bigger, he notices how Max also speaks to him as an equal human being. For the first time, Bigger sees whites not as oppressors, but as people just like him. This allows Bigger to be relieved of the feelings of fear, hate, and shame because he now knows that whites also have the same emotions as he does. If Bigger is sentenced to life in prison, he will become a better person. Bigger will live in a place where race and class will not matter. He will be able to see everyone in the same light and make connections with others for the first time of his life.
Bigger realizes for himself that in prison, Bigger will be given an identity outside of just being a murderer. Each inmate will recognize Bigger, and he will be able to recognize them as individuals as well. Life imprisonment would end Bigger’s isolation from the world and allow him interact in others’ lives. He would be able to use his story to inspire others and make intimate connections with them. The lone and crucial factor to Bigger’s commencement of a new life is him being granted life. Without life, Bigger will not be able to obtain his own identity and inspire others to view people as equal individuals.