Banned Books Week Spotlight – Native Son

Native Sonby Richard Wright

Original publication date: 1940

This week is banned books week in the United States.  All week I will be highlighting banned, challenged, and censored books I own and have read.

Publisher description:

Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Richard Wright’s novel is just as powerful today as when it was written — in its reflection of poverty and hopelessness, and what it means to be black in America.

Status:Challenged in the United States (citation).

Reason for challenge in the U.S.: Challenged by parents in both schools and libraries for profanity, sexual content, and violence (citation)

My thoughts: Hmm, I’m starting to see a trend here.  Gifted author writes gritty, realistic book about a person or persons dealing with political and/or economic oppression and/or systemic racism.  Parents complain about the violence, sex, and language that is what makes the book so realistic.  It makes me wonder if, at least some of the time, people are actually uncomfortable with these gritty depictions of oppression (even subconsciously) and complain about the language, sex, or violence as a way of dealing with it.

I enjoyed “Native Son,” if enjoyed is the right word, since it is a novel of hopelessness and violence.  It is remarkably well-written, and the reader can truly feel Bigger’s fear and his sensations of being trapped by his circumstances.  This is a book I heartily recommend for its depiction of race relations in the ‘non-segregated’ North in the early part of the 20th century.

Your Turn: Have you read “Native Son” or any of Wright’s other work?  What did you think?  What would it be like to feel as though you were so trapped by your circumstances that violence seems to be the only option?  What would it be like to know that others see you as less than human?

Buy this book on Amazon.

Check out my Banned Books Week Spotlights all week, every day at 2 pm Central through Saturday, Octobter 4th.

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Rebecca of The Book Lady’s Blog is doing Banned Books Week Spotlights as well, every morning at 9 am.  Check her out as well!

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14 comments to Banned Books Week Spotlight – Native Son

  • This book has stuck with me all these years. And you’re right…people, as a general rule, don’t want to be reminded about race relations and the suffering of another race. At least not one here in our own country. It’s like a dirty secret that gets swept under the rug (much like Native American history). I’m not sure if it’s latent guilt — I don’t understand that — or fear. Whatever the reason, books like Native Son are an important part of our social conscious. I, for one, will absolutely insist my children read it.

  • I’ve never heard of this book, but it sounds very valuable and like something I should read. I think reading about oppression is incredibly important for children because they need to understand what can happen in the world. I read quite a few books about Nazi Germany, slavery, and dystopias when I was a child and I wouldn’t exchange that knowledge for more fluff books about princesses and fairies.

  • lindymc

    I have not read the book; but I wanted to thank you for giving us the quote from Judith Krug. It’s one I’ve stored away in the back of my book journal where I keep “words of wisdom, and/or beauty,etc.” I think it’s great that you are highlighting Banned Books Week.

  • I read this as part of my high school English class and it’s still very vivid in my mind. Excellent book.

  • Tracy

    Like Lenore, I read this book in high school English class–but I HATED it. I think a large part of my reaction was due to the lack of class discussion and obvious discomfort of an inexperienced teacher. I had to read the book again in college to truly appreciate it.

  • This one’s been on my TBR forever. I read Black Boy and was really impressed with Wright’s writing. I agree that it is very interesting that many of the books that got banned are powerful examinations of racism.

  • ANOTHER one most people read in high school, but was not assigned at my school…i haven’t read most of those school classics (the scarlet letter, where the red fern grows, of mice and men, ETC), what the hell was up with my teachers/schools…

  • Bailey P.

    No one can doubt that this book is powerful. It is gritty and dark. It portrays racism in a stark picture of dismal hopelessness. Perhaps, for some people, this jolt is what they need to understand the horrors of inequality.
    However, what I do not think it right is mandating that teens read this book. Native Son is one of my required summer reading books, and to me, it was an unnecessarily horrifying depiction of a story I already know. Call me naive- maybe I am- but it is never right to make anyone live inside the mind of an inhumane killer.

    • Interesting. I would never in a million years have described him as an “inhumane killer.” His first murder in particular is an accident and everything further that happens comes out of his extreme fear and attempt at self-preservation. He certainly gets no pleasure from his murders.

  • Sierra O.

    I read this book in my tenth grade reading class. I do believe that books need to have some sort of profanity or issue that is some what socially inappropriate, it just keeps the kid entertained longer. But this book was ridiculous. It was uncomfortable on so many levels. It wasn’t the social situation that makes me say this though I can see how it could. This book has two overly sexual scenes where two women are raped (or almost) that I would even now in college feel perverted reading. The scenes where he disposed of the bodies after killing the two women is also disturbing. I don’t think this book is a bad novel, it has excellent points on social structure and race relations, I just think that as a high school student who read that book it was way too graphic in situations that are taboo.

  • The Book’s The Thing » 50 Banned Books Everyone Should Read

    […] Native Son by Richard Wright. Violence, sex, and profanity are the reasons this book is frequently banned. The hard depiction of […]

  • […] Native Son by Richard Wright. Violence, sex, and profanity are the reasons this book is frequently banned. The hard depiction of life in the novel highlights the hopelessness and racism suffered by one man and illustrates what happens to a man caught in a society that marginalizes him. […]

  • […] Native Son by Richard Wright. Violence, sex, and profanity are the reasons this book is frequently banned. The hard depiction of life in the novel highlights the hopelessness and racism suffered by one man and illustrates what happens to a man caught in a society that marginalizes him. […]

  • […] Native Son by Richard Wright. Violence, sex, and profanity are the reasons this book is frequently banned. The hard depiction of life in the novel highlights the hopelessness and racism suffered by one man and illustrates what happens to a man caught in a society that marginalizes him. […]