Poverty and Literature 2017

Native Son


Study Guide: Book Two: “Flight”

  • Flight from what?
  • A Marxist would argue that Bigger's actions are all predictable. Why?
  • An Existentialist would argue that Bigger deliberately pursues a perverse birth
    into consciousness. How?

New Consciousness   (pp. 109-131) 

  • What is Bigger's first reaction when he remembers what happened the night before?
  • Describe Bigger’s reaction to finding Jan's pamphlets in his coat pocket.
  • As he quickly gets a grip on his situation, Bigger notices that the knot in his gut has eased.
    Why does he feel whole for the first time in his life?
  • How does he see his family in a new way?
  • What stereotype does Bigger now incarnate? Why does Bigger find this confirmation liberating?
  • When he encounters his friends at the newstand, how does he feel? Why?
  • Riding the trolley to the Dalton's house, what new political ideas does Bigger conceive as he
    observes the black folk on the sidewalks?

Improvisation (pp. 116-129) 

  • Compare the Bigger who had fearfully approached the Dalton door just the day before
    with this new man. How is he different?
  • How does Bigger manipulate white preconceptions about him to his advantage?

Bessie (pp. 129-149)

  • Describe Bigger’s relationship with Bessie. Are they in love?
  • Where does Bigger get the idea to extort ransom money from the Daltons?
  • How does Bigger put his newfound self-confidence to use with Bessie?
    How will he control her?
  • Why does Bessie go along with his plan?

Interrogation (pp. 149-172)

  • What is Bigger’s best defense in his interrogation by Britten?
  • After managing Britten during the first stage of the interrogation, Bigger goes to his room,
    falls asleep, and dreams a terrible dream? From what part of Bigger’s psyche
    does the dream emanate? What is he trying to tell himself?
  • How does Bigger adroitly shift suspicion to Jan?
  • What happens when Jan confronts Bigger in the driveway?
  • How is Bigger’s plan already unraveling?

The Ransom Plan   (pp. 172-184)

  • What does Bigger think about when he sees Mr. Dalton’s “South Side Real Estate” sign?
  • What will the police do with the ridiculous ransom note that Bigger composes?
  • Look at Bessie’s speech  after Bigger has told her the truth:
  • Can you convert this speech into a blues song?
  • Is Bessie right when she says, “I was lost when I took up with you”?

Discovery (pp. 184-220)

  • In this section of the novel, Wright alludes to Poe’s terrifying story “The Black Cat”.  In that story
    the narrator’s lame efforts to avoid discovery of his crime are subverted by his desire to get caught.
    His true purpose throughout is to reveal the full extent of his perverse rebellion against natural order.
  • How does Bigger’s plan unravel? What mistakes does he make? What unforeseen contingencies
    has he overlooked? Did he really believe he could get away with the ransom plan?
  • With the arrival of the newspapermen, events whirl beyond Bigger’s control. What is his response
    when the truth finally emerges?

Flight (pp. 220-241)

  • Does Bigger have to kill Bessie?
  • Why does Bessie insist on going with him?
  • Does Bigger’s calm rationalization of his decision convince you?
  • Note the way that Wright composes the setting for this terrible crime.
    How might it suggest the true forces driving Bigger and Bessie’s actions?
  • Camus suggests that the only true philosophical question is whether to accept or reject life.
    Is Bigger’s choice legitimate? Or do you believe he had any choice?

The Manhunt (pp. 241-270)

  • What is the terrible irony of Bigger’s response to the newspaper accounts of his alleged sex crimes?
  • Describe the white reaction to news of a white girl’s murder at the hands of a black man.
    Do you think Wright is exaggerating to make a political point?
  • Why does Wright use this section of the narrative to expose the injustices of urban segregation
    and the indignity of ghetto life?
  • How does the black middle class respond to the spectacle of the manhunt for Bigger Thomas?
  • Locate the rhetorical climax of Wright’s depiction of the mob closing in on Bigger.
    What symbolic values are suggested by these final moments?