Native Son: ReviewsNative Son, by Richard Wright, was hailed by reviewers as an instantclassic upon its release in 1940.
The novel was an instant bestseller, havingbeen included in the book-of-the-month-club. Due to its proto revolutionarythemes it was the subject of many reviews. Two such reviewers are CliftonFadiman and Malcolm Cowley. Clifton Fadiman, writer for The New Yorker declared that Native Son wasthe most powerful American novel since the Grapes of Wrath.
He is positive thatanyone who reads this book has to know what it means to be a Negro, especiallybeing a Negro in the U. S. over seventy years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Fadiman then goes on to compare the novel to Theodore Dreiser’s An AmericanTragedy, declaring that his novel did for the American white as Native Son didfor the Negro. Fadiman begins criticizing Bigger Thomas, the main character in thenovel.Order now
He feels that Bigger is just a stupid fool, having done everythingpossible to actually get himself caught. Fadiman also writes that Bigger”. . . knew that the moment he allowed what his life meant to enter fully into hisconsciousness, he would either kill himself or somebody else.
” Fadiman thengoes on by criticizing Wright stating that he is too explicit, repetitive, andoverdoes his melodrama from time to time. Fadiman does not believe Wright to bea finished writer just yet. However, he does think that Wright possesses thetwo absolute necessities of the first-rate novelist, passion and intelligence. He also understands that Wright must have been greatly affected by the labormovement, which may have contributed to Native Son. At the conclusion of his review, Fadiman once again compares Native Sonto An American Tragedy.
He says that the two novels tell almost the same story. Although He feels that Dreiser’s novel is filled with better, more controlledknowledge; he feels that Wright’s novel will have the same affect on the readerif they are not afraid of a challenge. By saying “afraid,” Fadiman means thatNative Son is not merely a story but a deep experience. The next review that we will look at is one done by Malcolm Cowley,writer for The New Republic. Cowley immediately compares Native Son toSteinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, stating that the books resemble each other byboth having grown out of the radical movements of the 1930s.
Cowley feels thatWright was moved by the wrongs he had suffered in his own person, which made himhate people with whiter skin than his own. This aided in Wright’s writingNative Son. He then goes on to say that Wright’s feelings were clearly evidentin his first novel, Uncle Tom’s Children. However, with Native Son, Wright’ssympathies have broadened and he has become less resentful. Cowley feels that Wright’s purpose for writing Native Son was simple.
He seems to be saying “Listen, you white folks, I want to tell you all about theNegroes in America. I want to tell you how they live and how they feel. I wantyou to change your mind about them before it is too late to prevent a worsedisaster than any we have known. I speak for my own people, but I speak forAmerica too.
” (Gates, 9)Cowley then goes on to talk about Bigger, and how he had been trainedfrom the beginning of his life to be a bad citizen. How had he been taughtAmerica ideals of life, but was never be able to achieve them. Whatever Biggerwanted to do, such as fly an airplane, was reserved for the whites. Basically,Cowley is saying that the whites made Bigger the way he was.
If he had thechance to be a good person then he would taken it, but he was never given thischance, so he was always bad. As he concludes his review, Cowley states that Wright had written abetter novel than he had planned. He was able to make his readers feel that itwas Bagger’s only claim to human courage and dignity to die. Wright also madeBigger be a human rather than just a racial symbol. This was an importantconcept in the novel that attributed to its great success. Each of the reviewers had many interesting opinions which were relevantto the novel.
Having been compared to Grapes of Wrath and An American Tragedy ,it is evident that Native Son is a great work of literature. The main pointthat the reviewers made was that Wright really had a great idea for a story andpresented it extremely well. He was not too personal in his writings, yet hegave us, the readers a novel which we could apply personal experiences to andenjoy as well.