'Native Son' is Published

Native Son tells the story of a "bad nigger," coal-black, 20-year-old Bigger Thomas, who lives with his pious mother, a mild sister and brother in a one-bedroom tenement apartment on Chicago's South Side.

In a flawlessly keyed first scene Bigger smashes a rat with a skillet, frightening his sister into a faint. Sullen and sassy through breakfast, he begs the last quarter in the house, joins his poolroom pals to plan a delicatessen stickup. Instead, getting cold feet, he picks a fight with them. Bigger and his pals play a game of mimic called "white," speculate on whites' lives, particularly as portrayed in movies of the rich. Rarely has literature afforded such ruthlessly intimate glimpses into anti-white thoughts.

While Wright made blacks proud of his success, he also made them uncomfortable with the protagonist, Bigger, who is a stereotype of the "brute Negro" they had been trying to overcome with novels of uplift by the "talented tenth" since the Gilded Age. Wright's argument is that racist America created Bigger; therefore, America had better change or more Biggers would be out there. At the end, when Max fails to understand Bigger, who cannot be saved from the electric chair, Wright is faulting the Communist party for not comprehending the black people it relied on for support. (Personally disillusioned with the party, Wright left it in 1942 and wrote an essay published in Atlantic Monthly in 1944 called "I Tried to Be a Communist," which was later reprinted in The God That Failed (1949), a collection of essays by disillusioned ex-Communists.) Native Son continues to be regarded as Wright's greatest novel and most influential book. As a result, he has been called the father of black American literature, a figure with whom writers such as James Baldwin had to contend.