The Themes of Crime and Violence in Richard Wright’s Native Son

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Here is a point-by-point discussion of the theme of violence in Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son. You will find this post extremely useful if you are preparing to write an essay on any aspect of the novel, Native Son.

So here we go …

In Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son, black male characters like Bigger Thomas, Gus, Jack, and G. H. are portrayed as habitual law-breakers who are also fond of other forms of violence.

Six instances of violent behaviour among black youth in Native Son

Instances of violent behaviour and emotions of violence among black youth include the following:

  1. They steal from other blacks, sometimes at gunpoint.
  2. They express the desire to rob whites. Just that they are scared of the dire consequences if caught.
  3. They enjoy venting their frustrations on defenceless animals which they kill without any feeling of remorse. An example is the violent killing of the huge rat by Bigger Thomas in their one-room apartment.
  4. Black youth in Native Son habitually arm themselves with weapons of violence just in case they run into trouble with the system. Bigger has a gun on him when he visits Mr Dalton for his job. He also fires at his pursuers in the case of the death of Mary Dalton.
  5. Black youth regularly engage in fist fights, particularly among themselves.
  6. They are constantly expressing such violent emotions as anger and hatred.

5 reasons black youth indulge in crime and violence in Native Son.

Here are the main factors that cause many black male characters in Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son, to resort to violence at the least opportunity.

  • The general tendency among black youth toward violence and other unlawful behaviour is an inevitable result of the fear, the frustration, and the anger that they feel toward their oppressors.
  • Crime and violence appear to be one means of economic survival in a system that denies them opportunities.
  • Crime and violence provide an escape route from the harsh realities they face. Black youth see violence as a convenient weapon to help them suppress the depressing feeling of vulnerability they experience.
  • Crime is considered a way of paying back those who deny them opportunities – that is why Bigger and his fellow gang members would have loved to rob Blum’s Delicatessen.
  • Crime and violence give blacks a certain feeling of personal power. This is what the racist system has denied them and something for which they so much crave. Bigger, for example, experiences a sense of having control over his choices only when he indulges in the heinous act of killing Mary, chopping off her lifeless body and burning it in a furnace. That feeling of power increases as he goes on to consciously perform other illegal acts – without the involvement of any white person.

We should not forget …

The white community equally resorts to violence in the novel. This happens especially when they feel threatened by the oppressed blacks.

The show of force employed by the racist white system in controlling blacks is a more brutal form of violence.

For instance, five thousand police officers are let loose onto the streets to hunt down a single black youth. And all of a sudden the powerful white-dominated media is heard leading the blood-thirsty chorus for nothing less than Bigger’s head.

The way the racist apparatus systematically strips blacks of all opportunities and their humanity is another form of violence.

For whites, therefore, violence is a necessary tool for crushing black resistance and for protecting their group interest.


Bigger Thomas and others like him go through more trouble as a consequence of their violent reaction to the racist system they live in. The black community as a whole is also made to suffer in many ways as a result of these violent reactions.

Things, therefore, get worse rather than better for blacks any time they fight back with violence. This shows clearly that there could be a more effective way of resisting a vicious system which leaves them trapped and stripped of all human dignity.

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Ralph is a professional blogger. He spends his day working as an online entrepreneur and e-learning strategist. As a digital publishing trainer/consultant, he has developed exceptional skills in SEO-content writing. He writes extensively on lifelong learning and personal development issues. Ralph is the CEO of RN Digital Media Ent - a digital publishing & content marketing services platform he founded in 2017.

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