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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
31
4.5 out of 5 stars
Native Son (Vintage Classics)
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on 19 September 2015
I read this for book club and I found it quite difficult to get into at first. Then it became quite interesting for different reasons - there are race and class issues - the antagonist, Bigger Thomas, is a black American living in poverty in the Chicago in the 1930s, taken into employment by a wealthy white man, Mr Dalton, and given lodgings with his family. Alongside this is also a political angle - with Communists attempting to subvert the expected standards of societal behaviour. Bigger Thomas is employed by Mr Dalton, but his daughter attempts to treat Bigger as an equal leading him to feel uncomfortable and afraid. Bad things happen in this book and you can read the book for a social commentary on life in America in the 1930s or you can take all of those things out and just read it just as the story of the descent of a person into evil. At the heart of the book is the question, "how does such evil happen?"
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on 10 July 2017
This book I could not put down and a seriously shocking, harrowing story. I appreciated the book from the time he wrote it and the experiences of others. It was well written and interesting. Even though I am still gobsmacked I felt that I connected to every one of the characters at that time.
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on 15 October 2017
Marvellous Book & it hasn't dated
Still relevant now what with Black Lives Matter
This is the 3rd copy I have purchased over the years
Radical & perceptive
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on 9 June 2017
I liked the fact that the writer didn't hold back on the reality of how black and white people perceived each other's world.
Harsh writing that was ground breaking at that time
A true reflection of society that could still be true now.
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on 8 October 2017
Brought for son for school
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on 3 August 2017
A very disturbing but thought provoking read. I would definitely recommend.
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on 5 April 2017
Richard Wright has written a devastating and uncompromising novel set in 1930s Chicago. Class tension and race relations are extremely well drawn in this novel, and both are central to the storyline and the development of the characters (and are deeply ingrained in Wright's own life). Stylistically, the novel clings to the main character of Bigger Thomas, and is just about as close to being a first person narrative as is possible whilst being written in the third person. This makes the reader feel Bigger's frustrations, futility, anger and resentment constantly, and I think this is important later on. Native Son does not force the reader into any particular avenue of thought about its protagonist; one can make up their own mind as to his compulsion to commit crimes as the blame is apportioned to various parties and, most strongly, Bigger's own circumstance.

Another thing to note is that the entire storyline of the book takes place within perhaps a week, with the majority of the book (part 1 and 2) occurring within about a 24 hour time span. This definitely makes the book more effective, as there is just no let up in the action and the tension. The actions of Bigger are hard to stomach, but compelling, and there are definitely times when, against your better judgement. you are rooting for the protagonist in spite of his actions. The way the Wright manages to invert the reader's moral compass is unsettling and a major reason for why this book succeeds, in my opinion.

Despite only having limited knowledge of political sentiments in the US in this period, the Communist element is important to the writer and is integral to much of the story. I found that it added a good twist, as Bigger is faced by whites that are reaching out to him, treating him humanely, but this idea is so foreign that he is unsure and unable to react in a way that we would understand.

The one drawback to the book, addressed in a number of reviews and in the afterword in the book itself, is that that part 3 (fate) is overly long and very abstract. I actually enjoyed it once I committed to it, but there were times when I found the lack of activity and action difficult to stick with, so I recommend that you try to read decent amounts at each time (rather than just a page or two - you will lose track of what is happening!). Fate is at odds with the rest of the novel, probably deliberately, in that it consists of mostly of dialogue. Whilst 'fear' and 'flight' keen you glued to the story, eager to find out what will happen next, the final chapter seems to resign Bigger to his 'fate'.

This said, this is a worthy novel of its time and is rightly considered an American classic. The study of racial confrontation and left-wing politics are tied in with a very readable, compelling story. Highly recommended to those with a strong constitution.
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VINE VOICEon 28 June 2005
Although "Native Son" is not written in the first person, the narrative concentrates almost exclusively on the central character, Bigger Thomas. This gives the story all the intensity and focus of a first-person account, but enables the author to use a more articulate voice than his subject would have been capable of. Few novelists have employed this technique in such an uncompromising way. We are with Thomas every breath, every step. I think few readers will get to like him, any more than Wright himself does, but we get to know and understand him. He is a product of 1930s America, of deeply ingrained racial prejudice and extreme economic disparity. Wright does not suggest that this excuses Bigger, only that it explains him. The writing style is lean and muscular, sparse and direct. We are given only bare descriptions as Wright allows action and dialogue to carry the story.
The plot is sound, the only really implausible element being the gathering of the entire cast of characters in the prison cell, something Wright himself acknowledged could not happen in reality but for which he allowed himself dramatic license. It is true though, that the final phase goes on too long and the long diatribes from Max are unconvincing. Another socialist writer, Upton Sinclair, suffered from the same tendency to preach instead of relying on the story to carry the message. Despite these reservations, "Native Son" remains an important social commentary and a forceful and compelling portrait of a lost soul.
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on 4 April 2003
Guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish, once picked up it's impossible to put down. If it's a fairy tale ending you're after, this definitely isn't for you. Descibing vividly the poverty, deprivation and oppression suffered by the black people of 1930/40's America, a special message is conveyed through a host of disturbing truths that are certain to hit the reader hard. The central character, Bigger Thomas is portrayed as both murderer and victim in this cleverly devised masterpiece. The sufferings of an entire race seem subject to the future of Thomas, the 20 year old man who's life has been predominantly controlled by a cold and fierce people. This WHITE blanket that smothers the BLACK world that Bigger grows to hate provides the reader with a situation they undoubtedly become passionate about. By the end, the reader is left feeling subdued; resentful yet compassionate and merciful. The only criticism i would have, is that the book does depend a lot upon the reader being able to empathise with Bigger, which is something that i personally found quite hard to do. Neverthless, another must read from Richard Wright.
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VINE VOICEon 5 April 2009
Bigger Thomas is a deeply disaffected black man living in post-Depression pre WW2 Chicago. He hates the white world as much as most of it appears to hate him and this novel recounts his tale through double murder,pusuit,capture and trial.

Wright has a lead character who is a bully,thug and coward whom he must bestow with deep insights into rabid racism, anti-semitism and pre McCarthy anti-Communism. These are major,worthy themes but for me Bigger just isn't the voice for them.

The trial scene is very weak descending into a polemic rant which Bigger 'don't understand' and I can sympathise with him at 'falling asleep through most of it'.

In 1940 this must have been powerful stuff and it's worth reading in that context. It chugs along and is worth 3 stars.

Mr Wright's 'Introduction' to this work states, 'I am not so pretentious as to imagine that it is possible for me to account completely for my own book...But I am going to try to account for as much of it as I can....' and 30 pages of Intro later he has had a good go! Pretentious?
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