Monday, August 26, 2013

Native Son: A Long Argument

Native Son by Richard Wright

A final question to consider when reading a novel is what the argument is.  Sometimes there are more than one, as is the case with Native Son.  And here are only a few that I focused on:

III. Rhetoric-Stage Inquiry
Is there an argument in this book?  

Argument One: Everyone wants the same things: to live in this world and be free; to be treated with respect and honor; and to know that his life has meaning or purpose.  

Argument Two: If those in power continue to oppress those groups they seek to control, eventually those groups will rise up and rebel.

Argument Three: Hate causes fear or fear causes hate; both cause blindness.

Argument Four: Reject religion because it keeps people blind and ignorant.  

(Possible) Argument Five: People are a product of their environment and are not totally responsible for their behavior.

Do I agree? 

Argument One: Yes, to a degree.  It is human nature to desire freedom, honor, and purpose; and I believe most people do share this need.  I cannot speak for others.

Argument Two: Yes.  Rebellion is also part of human nature caused by powers that oppress the human desire to be free.  (ie. the American Revolution, Civil Rights Movement)

Argument Three: Yes.  Absolutely makes sense.

Argument Four: No.  Religion, more specifically, salvation through Christ opens your eyes and frees you from your burden of ignorance.  Apparently, Richard Wright never understood this, and instead saw the church as a place to keep people ignorant and immobile.    

Argument Five: I do not like this argument, but I think there is some truth to it.  For one, black Americans in the 1930s lived in a different period than we do now.  Today, legislation has provided relief from many unfair practices, while the hearts of men have also changed dramatically with regard to race and other prejudices. They have!!!!  But the powers were different; now government controls much of the private sector, and any oppression or suppression of opportunity is thanks to government being an obstacle.

In my previous post, I noted that I think government is still perpetuating the segregation, oppression, and keeping groups of people inferior by subjecting them to hopelessness.  Government has an interest in growing its power, and in doing so, it must keep its people dependent, which is possible if people remain ignorant and in poverty.  But ignorance and poverty are wearisome and miserable.  Hopelessness keeps people restless, restlessness causes agitation, and agitation provokes hatred. Government is partially responsible for maintaining the environment in which so many people feel themselves trapped.

However, and this is why I do not totally agree with the argument: ultimately, people are accountable for their own behavior.  One cannot completely blame his environment or upbringing for everything - I don't care how horrible it is.  They are responsible for not standing up for their lives and wanting to rise above it.  They are responsible for being lazy and careless and expecting [government] to take care of them forever.  And they are responsible for following evil influences and the wicked decisions they may ultimately make

Richard Wright wanted to bring to light a real injustice, and he showed Bigger Thomas as a product of the condition of his oppressed environment cornered by the hopelessness of his circumstances.  Yes, some people are pushed by their circumstances; but others are motivated by pure wickedness in their hearts.  Wickedness and lack of humanity and empathy are also a very true reality.  

Post Script: 8/28/13  Dr. Ben Carson wrote this critical op ed piece about the very thing I was trying to say.  You can read it here: MLK would be alarmed by black-on-black violence, lack of family values.  Think of how things have changed for the better, but yet some still are making destructive choices.

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