A biography of Native Son’s Bigger Thomas that examines his continued relevance in debates over Black men and the violence of racism
Bigger Thomas, the central figure in Richard Wright’s novel Native Son (1940), eludes easy categorization. A violent and troubled character who rejects the rules of society, Bigger is both victim and perpetrator, damaged by racism and segregation on the South Side of Chicago. He steals, rapes, and kills without regrets. His story has electrified readers for more than eight decades, and it continues to galvanize debates around representation, respectability, social justice, and racism in American life.
In this book Trudier Harris, the distinguished scholar of English, examines the literary life of Bigger Thomas from his birth to the current day. Harris explores the debates between Black critics and Communist artists in the 1930s and 1940s over the “political novel,” the censorship of Native Son by white publishers, and the work’s initial reception—as well as interpretations from Black feminists and Black Power activists in the decades that followed, up to the novel’s resonance with the Black Lives Matter movement today. Harris portrays Bigger as the knotted heart of American racism, damning and unsettling, and still very much with us.
Trudier Harris is J. Carlyle Sitterson Distinguished Professor of English, emerita, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and University Distinguished Research Professor of English, emerita, University of Alabama. She is the author of numerous books, including From Mammies to Militants: Domestics in Black American Literature and The Scary Mason-Dixon Line: African American Writers and the South. She lives in Tuscaloosa, AL.
“As one of our most celebrated literary critics, Trudier Harris has done it again. Bigger is the definitive study of one of the most (in)famous characters in American literary history.”—E. Patrick Johnson, author of Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South—An Oral History
“Bigger Thomas is unquestionably one of the most memorable figures in American fiction. Scrupulously charting his literary life, Trudier Harris richly illuminates the complex meanings of Wright’s masterpiece.”—Arnold Rampersad, author of The Life of Langston Hughes “Finally, a sustained scholarly exploration of a character who, for over eight decades, has haunted our literary and cultural imaginations. Trudier Harris, one of our leading experts on Black literature, takes us on a journey into the worlds of Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas.”—Howard Rambsy II, author of Bad Men: Creative Touchstones of Black Writers
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