Showing posts with label Native Son. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Native Son. Show all posts

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Role of Max in Richard Wright's Native Son

In Richard Wright’s Native Son, Boris Max, the communist attorney, is the mouthpiece of the writer. Wright the first protest novelist, in America, raised his voice against the racial injustice that turned the black people into half human during the 1930s. He expresses all the themes of the novel through Max. Through Max, he describes the overall system of race and class oppression in the United States.

Max, on behalf of the novelist, describes all the institutions of power in the country, the press, the courts, the legal system, the psychiatric profession, the housing market, the entertainment, industry and other institutions as oppressive to the Blacks. But through Max, Wright expresses other two important issues. It’s through Max, we can understand the psyche of Bigger better. And other factor is that Richard Wright wanted reconciliation between the lack and the white. So, Max appeals for reconciliation between the black and he white.

Like Bigger, Max feels a deep sense of exclusion from American society. As a Jew and a Communist, he suffers in myriad ways because American society is dictated by the prejudices of the majority. Perhaps because of his own experiences living on the fringes of society, Max is willing and able to understand Bigger’s life story. He sympathizes with the idea that factors outside of Bigger’s control created the conditions that caused Mary’s death. He makes a compelling argument for the judge that life inside prison would allow Bigger to live as a man among equals for the first time in his life. Disappointed at his failure to convince the judge, Max takes on the burden to convince the governor to grant a stay of execution. He fails at that, too. However, in the final scene, despite Max’s sense of failure, he does connect with Bigger. He is ultimately the one who helps Bigger see his worth as a human being, no matter what he’s done or not done in the short time of his life.

Max tries to show the real cause of Bigger’s murder."Max uses blindness in his passionate argument to the judge, and this same blindness is a continuing theme throughout the book. Max eloquently tells the judge that if he reacts only to Max's comments about the sufferings of Negroes, he will be "blinded" by feelings that prevent him from understanding reality and acting accordingly. Max pleads, "Rather, I plead with you to see... an existence of men growing out of the soil prepared by the collective but blind will of a hundred million people" (Wright 328), and continues, "Your Honor, in our blindness we have so contrived and ordered the lives of men" (Wright 336). Thus, Max sees blindness in this instance is a threat to the state, along with a threat to men's freedom."

Max is more vocal when Mr. Dalton is placed on the stand and he exposes the exorbitant rents and segregating practices and policies of the Dalton's South Side Realty Company. Dalton admits that he simply assumed that blacks were happier living in their own neighborhoods and after he prides himself on helping his employees get an education, he admits that he has never offered employment to any educated blacks.
Through Max we get psychology of Bigger.

When Max returns to see Bigger, Bigger tries to convince the lawyer that the case was already lost and that there is nothing that can be done. Max remains optimistic and he hopes that Bigger will have some faith in him. Bigger sees that he is living in a No Man's Land and even as he answers the sum of Max's questions, he feels Max's condescension and feels distance. Max focuses on Mary's rape and is puzzled when Bigger explains that he did not rape Mary, he did kill her by accident and he hated her even though she didn't do anything to him. As for Bessie, Bigger explains that he neither loved nor hated her; his hate is reserved for whites mostly, because they "own every thing" and prevent him from being able to live freely. He is told to "stay in a spot" and Bigger confesses that he was simply unable to live that sort of life adding that after committing the murders, he felt a sort of freedom that he had not experienced.

In his conversation, Bigger also explains that he is not religious and he would never let himself become so "poor" that he had to rely upon happiness in another world to guide him through the present world. Bigger insists that he will never believe in God and then changes to topic to Mary Dalton, explaining that he had to kill her because "she was killing [him]." Bigger rambles on to explain how the Communists and race leaders have done little for him, that even though he is too young to vote, he has already illegally signed up to vote for those who paid him to do so. Max seeks to convince Bigger that he is different and Bigger is admittedly moved that Jan does not hate him. Max explains that the trial verdict will be delivered by a judge and not by a jury and that Bigger will plead Guilty, rather than Not Guilty, hoping for life imprisonment rather than the death penalty.

Max defends Bigger (the black) in the court

After Buckley has roused the passions of the racist mob, Max decries the very racism and misplaced passion that fuel Buckley's unjust cries for "justice." Max argues that racism, fear and the feudal relationship of Bigger to his landlord Daltons have all mitigated Bigger's motive. Max hopes that the judge might look beyond race prejudice and take a step in the direction of a greater understanding of race in America. After making his case, Max tells Bigger that he did the best he could.
Buckley swiftly derides Max's rhetoric as Communist propaganda and proclaims that Bigger's death is the necessary thing for justice and humanity in America. If Bigger is not killed, the law will have been mutilated and justice will have returned to the people void. Buckley maintains that the law is "holy" and that the court must "let law take its course."

But finally Max stays with Bigger to the last.The judge quickly sentences Bigger Thomas to death. At last, the mob becomes jubilant and they are sated because the judge has accommodated justice by speeding the process of execution, as Bigger's appeal seems unlikely. Max is more perturbed than Bigger, who is to be executed "on or before midnight Friday, March third." Bigger has tried to remain dispassionate but his spirit falters as his mind tries to sort out the reeling, whirlwind activity of the last few days. To recapitulate: On a Saturday, Bigger learned that he would have a job as a chauffeur for a millionaire family; he takes the job after rejecting the temptation to rob Blum's deli. Early Sunday morning, Bigger returns Mary Dalton to her home, accidentally suffocating her. Later Sunday, Bigger visits Bessie, forges a ransom note, discovers the "discovery" of Mary's earrings in the ash, returns to Bessie and rapes and kills her. Monday, Bigger is on the run and he is caught that very night. His inquest is on a Tuesday, his trial is on a Wednesday, and his execution is to be "on or before midnight," Friday.

Max is perturbed because he has little time to regroup and he is unable to convince the Governor to offer Bigger a commutation of sentence or stay of execution. After this final hope has expired, Bigger knows that his life is drawing to a close and he emancipates himself from his emotional stress. He is a broken spirit, no doubt, but Bigger is increasingly introspective and even if his reflections are to be faulted, he struggles to grow as much as he can before he dies. Max stays with Bigger for most of his final hours and the grim reality of Bigger's fate is revealed not in his imminent death but in the details of his conversation with Max. When Bigger sees that Max is disappointed and guilty, he consoles the lawyer by confessing "I'm glad I got to know you," which surprises Max considering the prejudices against Communist, Bigger's distrust of Jews and his fear of white people. Max tries to build solidarity with Bigger through politics, explaining the similarities between Bigger's suffering as a black man and his own sufferings at the hands of anti-Semites.

Bigger is not interested in political solidarity and as he tries to explain what he is feeling he recalls his earlier conversations with Max. Max does not understand what Bigger is trying to say and Bigger becomes frustrated and gives up his last hope of communicating. Uncharacteristically, Bigger is nagged by the thought and again, he tries to explain his "idea" to Max; he needs to "make him know" what he has been trying to express for his whole life. He recounts an earlier conversation when Max asked Bigger the political questions regarding his hate and fear of whites, his economic situation, etc. Bigger focuses on the question of "What would you have liked to do, if you were allowed to?" explaining to Max that nobody had ever asked him what he wanted to do, and so he had never spent serious time contemplating a future. Even though he felt disconnected from humanity, Bigger felt like a human and Max's questions helped Bigger realize how badly he wanted to live.

In Book Three, Wright varies his narrative structure. After two sections of Bigger's thoughts and actions being played off of each other, Book Three dedicates a large portion of the section towards the courtroom scenes that depict Boris A. Max and David Buckley far more than Bigger. In contrast to Buckley's colorful prose and mob-inciting rhetoric, Max is a self-righteous bore. His statement on Bigger's behalf is well over 10,000 words and much of this soliloquy was excised from the original 1940 edition of the novel. Max's speech is heavy with communist theorizing and Wright certainly uses Max to forward some of his own theories. Bigger is the product of black oppression and killing him will only produce new Biggers and more black violence. Max gives warning to the White. Here he is also the mouthpiece of the inarticulate Bigger.