The theme of blindness revealing itself is very apparent in the African American novel, Native Son by Richard Wright. It is focused on American racial discrimination and segregation and how white supremacists forced African Americans to live a life they didn’t choose. In the story, both races have chosen to turn a blind eye and neglect those who are being oppressed. Wright depicts blindness as a rebellious point of view that plays an important role in the everyday struggle for African Americans against white supremacists.
Whites tend to see blacks as a whole, rather than each being an individual, making them blind. Blacks are seen as blind because they allow themselves to be mistreated by their oppressors. Native Son focuses on African American racial discrimination and segregation that took place prior to the Civil Rights movement. Set in Chicago in the 1930’s, Native Son tells the story of a young African American man, Bigger Thomas, who accidentally kills a young white woman in a moment of panic. He ends up committing a second murder of his girlfriend when he was trying, as Wright states, “[to] stop [Bessie] who now knew too much […]” (178).
After Bigger murdered Mary he felt like he was finally in control for the first time in his life. Bigger felt like he could manipulate other people’s blindness and make everyone’s stereotypical beliefs work in his own favor. Bigger was able to continue with his devious ways until fragments of Mary’s bones that he tried to burn in the fireplace were found, forcing him to panic and flee the scene, making him seem suspicious.
The theme of blindness is discussed a lot throughout the story. From a literal form of blindness from Mrs. Dalton, to the underlying message that everyone is blind. It could also be said that Mrs. Dalton’s physical blindness is a metaphor for the absence of insight into black suffering that characterizes the limited vision of herself and her husband. One of the reasons why the Daltons are blind is that they are incapable of seeing Bigger beyond his stereotype of the inferiority of a black man. When Mrs. Dalton comes into Mary’s bedroom, although she cannot see Bigger, Bigger panics and covers Mary’s face with a pillow, in turn suffocating and killing her. Mrs. Dalton’s literal inability to see him resembles their incapability to regard him as dangerous as any white.
Like the Dalton’s, the police also ignore Biggers intelligence, thinking that the murder and its cover-up were too elaborate for the mind of an African American. Just like Mrs. Dalton cannot see, the real conditions of Bigger’s race are invisible to herself and her husband. They charge blacks with high rents and justify their actions stating that “to charge them less rent would be unethical” (357). To consider it ‘unethical’ is to be blind by the prejudices of a racist society. They also do not accept the fact that their “intentions” to help blacks are ways to conceal their own abuses towards them, “philanthropy is as tragically blind as her sightless eyes!” (421).
The instance of the ping-pong tables shows their ignorance towards their own actions and the way blacks are treated. Mr. Dalton: What this boy has done will not influence my relations with the Negro people. Why, only today I sent a dozen ping-pong tables to the South Side Boy’s Club… Max: Will ping-pong keep men from murdering? Can’t you see? […] This boy and millions like him want a meaningful life, not ping-pong (325). Not only were Mr. and Mrs. Dalton blind to Bigger, but so were Mary and Jan. While they fail to understand his feelings as an individual, Bigger thinks they are oppressing him instead of having good intentions. Thus, they are both blind to each other.
One example of Jan and Mary’s blindness is their language which was often discriminatory. Their language also suggests a division between races, making Bigger aware of his inferiority. You know, Bigger, I’ve long wanted to go into those houses and just see how your people live […] I just want to see. I want to know these people […] Yet they must live like we live […] They live in our country… In the same city with us… (101). Although Mary pretends to be friendly, she ignores that expressions like “your people” and “these people.”, causing a sense of separation from Bigger. Jan also does the same when he asks, “You live with your people?” and “I see what they’ve done to those people” (106-108).
The way Jan and Mary treat Bigger emphasizes much more their blindness. They are very friendly with him and even encourage him to have dinner in the black neighborhood. Although they have good intentions, they do not really understand that he is not used to dealing with white people. They are insensitive and are blind to realize that he is uncomfortable. Thus, just like his feelings are invisible to them, Bigger also feels invisible. He was trying desperately to understand […] they made him feel his black skin by just standing there, one holding his hand and the other smiling. He felt he had no physical existence at all right then […] He felt naked, transparent (98).
Although Jan and Mary are blind to Bigger’s emotions, he is also blind to them. He doesn’t care to realize their intentions. They were trying to be nice to Bigger, but because he continues to see them as oppressors, he continued to believe that “white people were not really people; they were a sort of great natural force” (144). Therefore, he is incapable of seeing Jan and Mary in a different way, he can not think of them as individuals who really were trying to be kind. In the novel, Native Son, the theme of blindness is prevalent throughout all the characters.
Although Mrs. Dalton is literally blind, the other characters are blind to the discrimination of race going on in the story. Bigger Thomas is a young, African American male who works under a white family. Throughout the story, he kills two women and at the end is faced with the consequences. The white characters in the novel are blind to how they treat the blacks, while the African Americans are blind and accept what is happening to them.