Cover image for Native son
Native son
Wright, Richard, 1908-1960.
Personal Author:
First Perennial Classics edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperPerennial, 1998.

Physical Description:
xxii, 504 pages ; 21 cm.
General Note:
"The restored text established by the Library of America."

Originally published in 1940.
Reading Level:
700 Lexile.
Program Information:
Reading Counts RC High School 9 31 Quiz: 20079 Guided reading level: NR.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Central Library FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Frank E. Merriweather Library X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
City of Tonawanda Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Lake Shore Library FICTION Adult Fiction Classics

On Order



With an introduction by Arnold Rampersad "The Library of America has insured that most of Wright's major texts are now available as he wanted them to be read." --Alfred Kazin, New York Times Book Review Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny: by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright's powerful novel is an unsparing reflection of the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America. "This new edition gives us a Native Son in which the key line in the key scene is restored to the great good fortune of American letters. The scene as we now have it is central both to an ongoing conversation among African-American writers and critics and to the consciousness among all American readers of what it means to live in a multi-racial society in which power splits among racial lines." --Jack Miles, Los Angeles Times

Author Notes

Richard Wright was generally thought of as one of the most gifted contemporary African American writers until the rise of James Baldwin. "With Wright, the pain of being a Negro is basically economic---its sight is mainly in the pocket. With Baldwin, the pain suffuses the whole man. . . . If Baldwin's sights are higher than Wright's, it is in part because Wright helped to raise them" (Time). Wright was born on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi, the son of a sharecropper. At the age of 15, he started to work in Memphis, then in Chicago, then "bummed all over the country," supporting himself by various odd jobs. His early writing was in the smaller magazines---first poetry, then prose. He won Story Story's $500 prize---for the best story written by a worker on the Writer's Project---with "Uncle Tom's Children" in 1938, his first important publication. He wrote Native Son (1940) in eight months, and it made his reputation. Based in part on the actual case of a young black murderer of a white woman, it was one of the first of the African American protest novels, violent and shocking in its scenes of cruelty, hunger, rape, murder, flight, and prison.

Black Boy (1945) is the simple, vivid, and poignant story of Wright's early years in the South. It appeared at the beginning of a new postwar awareness of the evils of racial prejudice and did much to call attention to the plight of the African American. The Outsider (1953) is a novel based on Wright's own experience as a member of the Communist party, an affiliation he terminated in 1944. He remained politically inactive thereafter and from 1946 until his death made his principal residence in Paris. His nonfiction writings on problems of his race include Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (1954), about a visit to the Gold Coast, White Man, Listen (1957), and Twelve Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States.

(Bowker Author Biography) Richard Wright was born on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi. His father left the family when Wright was only five years old, and he was raised first by his mother and then by a series of relatives. What little schooling he had ended with his graduation from ninth grade in Memphis, Tennessee. At age 15, he started to work in Memphis, and later worked in Chicago before traveling across the country supporting himself with odd jobs.

When Wright finally returned to Chicago, he got a job with the federal Writer's Project, a government-supported arts program. He was quite successful, winning a $500 prize from a magazine for the best fiction written by a participant in that program. In Chicago, he was also introduced to leftist politics and became a member of the Communist Party. In 1937, Wright left Chicago for New York, where he became Harlem editor for the Communist national newspaper, The Daily Worker, and where he met future novelist, Ralph Ellison.

Wright became a celebrated author with the publication of Native Son (1940), a novel he wrote in only eight months. Based on the actual case of a young black murderer of a white woman, it was one of the first of the modern black protest novels, violent and shocking in its sense of cruelty, hunger, rape, murder, flight, and prison. This novel brought Wright both fame and financial security. He followed it with his autobiography, Black Boy (1945), which was also successful. In 1942, Wright and his wife broke with the Communist Party, and in 1947, they moved to France, where Wright lived the rest of his life. His novel The Outsider (1953) is based on his experiences as a member of the Communist Party.

Wright is regarded as a major modern American writer, one of the first black writers to reach a large white audience, and thereby raise the level of national awareness of the continuing problem of racism in America. In many respects Wright paved the way for all black writers who followed him.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Bigger Thomas, of the Chicago slums, is a criminal but, larger, a victim of the white world. This lasting novel was the first to deal on a large-scale, graphic basis with the abysmal conditions of ghetto life, paving the way for others to write similarly, truthfully, about life and still see their work published.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Starred Review. 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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

After 58 years in print, Wright's Native Son has acquired classic status. It has not, however, lost its power to shock or provoke controversy. Bigger Thomas is a young black man in 1940s Chicago who accidentally kills the daughter of his wealthy white employer. He tries to frame the young woman's fianc‚ for the crime and attempts to extort ransom from the victim's family, but his guilt is discovered, and he is forced into hiding. After a terrifying manhunt, he is arrested and brought to trial. Though his fate is certain, he finds that his crimes have given meaning and energy to his previously aimless life, and he goes to his execution unrepentant. Wright avoids the trap of making his hero a martyr, for Bigger is a vicious and violent bully. But out of this tale the author develops a profoundly disturbing image of racism and its results that puts Bigger's experience in horrifying perspective. The unabridged recording includes material edited out of the original edition (Audio Reviews, LJ 10/15/98), including one major scene and some significant dialog. Peter Francis James's narration is thoughtful and polished but lacks intensity. When the text clearly demands an outburst of emotion, James repeatedly holds back, allowing the book's climaxes to drag by unrecognized. This recording will stand well until a better version appears. Recommended for all public libraries; librarians should be aware of extremely violent language and situations.ÄJohn Owen, Advanced Micro Devices Lib., Santa Clara, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Native Son Chapter One Book One: Fear Brrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinng! 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 boys dressed. 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. "Where?" "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. "Buddy!" "Yeah?" "Here; take this skillet." "O.K." "Now, get over by the door!" "O.K." 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: "Buddy!" "Hunh?" "Put that box in front of the hole so he can't get out!" "O.K." 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, hangingon. "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. "Goddamn!" 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 © by Richard A. Wright. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Native Son by Richard Wright All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Richard WrightJohn Reilly
Introduction: How "Bigger" Was Bornp. vii
Book 1p. 7
Book 2p. 93
Book 3p. 254
Afterwordp. 393
Selected Bibliographyp. 397

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