Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “Native Son” by Richard Wright that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “Native Son” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for “Native Son” by Richard Wright offer a short summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Fear, Flight, and Fate in “Native Son” by Richard Wright
The three “books” that comprise the novel Native Son are titled “Fear”, “Flight”, and “Fate.” These titles define the content and scope of each of the three major sections of the novel. Write an expository essay in which you define and explain these three “books” within the novel. Identify how each of the subjects guide the reader toward the major themes of the novel “Native Son.”. Alternately, construct an argumentative essay in which you consider whether Bigger is constricted by these categories, and whether he might have had a chance to experience the opposite of each of these three conditions. There are several possibilities for this essay on “Native Son” and it can also be argued (although it might be a stretch, it would certainly be a challenge) that these topics for each of the three books take away from the important themes.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Bigger as a Sympathetic Character
Throughout “Native Son” by Richard Wright, Bigger commits murder twice and engages in other behavior that the reader is likely to find socially and morally unacceptable. Yet one might argue that Bigger merely responded to the conditions in which he lived and which shaped him. If one advocates such a response, Bigger might be viewed as a sympathetic character. Determine what your position is with respect to this dilemma, and write a persuasive essay in which you attempt to convince your reader that Bigger deserves—or does not deserve—his or her sympathy. Be sure to reference characters who do and who do not support Bigger in the novel as part of your evidence. You might also find it useful to examine the role of setting in general when considering this essay topic.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Significance of the Title “Native Son”
The title of Richard Wright’s novel, “Native Son” may seem ironic. While it suggests that Bigger is a “native son”, the reality of Bigger’s life is that he is always struggling to be accepted in a world that he views as hostile. Think about what Wright might have meant be selecting this title for the novel, and build your argument by citing specific passages or moments in the text which support your interpretation. While it might be more of a challenge, it would also be useful to consider ways in which the title is not direct irony, but instead is a metaphor with a meaning that is not immediately visible.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Character Identity and Development in “Native Son” by Richard Wright
From the earliest pages of “Native Son”, Bigger clearly conveys his sense that everything in his life is frustrating and limiting. His mother predicts that Bigger will suffer deeply if he does not apply himself to overcome the obstacles in his path, and her prediction proves true. Write an argumentative essay in which you analyze Bigger’s development and take a position with respect to the questions: Could Bigger have developed differently? How did Bigger’s definitions of himself and others limit his possibilities? When performing a character analysis of Bigger in “Native Son” do not simply look for passages or important quotes where the character is directly speaking or thinking, also examine the reactions other characters have to him and how he interacts with them.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Role of the Media in the Administration of Justice as Presented in “Native Son” by Richard Wright
Throughout Native Son, Wright makes frequent references to the media and popular culture and how they shape public perceptions, especially with respect to race. Write an expository essay in which you identify some of Wright’s seminal arguments and explain your own interpretation of the role the media played in Bigger’s trial and subsequent conviction.
This list of important quotations from “Native Son” by Richard Wright will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Native Son” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned. Looking through these will prove to be a useful study guide as you consider your next steps. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of “Native Son” they are referring to.
“Bigger, honest, you the most no-countest man I ever seen in all my life!…. And mark my word, some of these days you going to set down and cry. Some of these days you going to wish you had made something out of yourself, instead of just a tramp. But it’ll be too late then.” (12-13)
“He hated his family because he knew that they were suffering and that he was powerless to help them. He knew that the moment he allowed himself to feel to its fullness how they lived, the same and misery of their lives, he would be swept out of himself with fear and despair.” (13)
“Was she laughing at him? Were they making fun of him? What was it that they wanted? Why didn’t they leave him alone. He was not bothering them. Yes, anything could happen with people like these….He was very conscious of his black skin and there was in him a prodding conviction that Jan and men like him had made it so that he would be conscious of that black skin.” (67)
“But they made him feel his black skin by just standing there looking at him, one holding his hand and the other smiling. He felt he had no physical existence at all right then; he was something to be hated, the badge of shame which he knew was attached to a black skin. It was a shadowy region, a No Man’s Land, the ground that separated the white world from the black that he stood upon.” (67-68)
“She was dead and he had killed her. He was a murderer, a Negro murderer, a black murderer. He had killed a white woman….In the darkness his fear made live in him an element which he reckoned with as ‘them.’” (86)
“He felt that they wanted and yearned to see life in a certain way; they needed a certain picture of the world; there was one way of living they preferred above all others; and they were blind to what did not fit. They did not want to see what others were doing if that doing did not fit their own desires….The whole thing came to him in the form of a powerful and simple feeling; there was in everyone a great hunger to believe that made him blind, and if he could see while others were blind, then he could get what he wanted and never be caught….” (102)
“‘If you killed her you’ll kill me’, she said. ‘I ain’t in this…. You told me you never was going to kill.’ ‘All right. They white folks They done killed plenty of us.’ ‘That don’t make it right.’” (168)
“There was just the old feeling, the feeling that he had had all his life: he was black and had done wrong; white men were looking at something with which they would soon accuse him. It was the old feeling, hard and constant again now….” (206)
“But what was he after? What did he want? What did he love and what did he hate? He did not know. There was something he knew and something he felt; something the world gave him and something he himself had; something spread out in front of him and something spread out in back; and never in all his life, with this black skin of his, had the two worlds, thought and feeling, will and mind, aspiration and satisfaction, been together; never had he felt a sense of wholeness.” (225)
“Bigger, you’re going to die. And if you die, die free. You’re trying to believe in yourself. And every time you try to find a way to live, your own mind stands in the way. You know why that is? It’s because others have said you were bad and they made you live in bad conditions. When a man hears that over and over and looks about him and sees that his life is bad, he begins to doubt his own mind….The job in getting people to fight and have faith is in making them believe in what life has made them feel, making them feel that their feelings are as good as those of others.” (390-391).
Reference: Wright, Richard. Native Son. New York: Harper & Row, 1940.