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native son?


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3 months ago
Bigger Thomas, a poor, uneducated, twenty-year-old black man in 1930s Chicago, wakes up one morning in his family’s cramped apartment on the South Side of the city. He sees a huge rat scamper across the room, which he corners and kills with a skillet. Having grown up under the climate of harsh racial prejudice in 1930s America, Bigger is burdened with a powerful conviction that he has no control over his life and that he cannot aspire to anything other than menial, low-wage labor. His mother pesters him to take a job with a rich white man named Mr. Dalton, but Bigger instead chooses to meet up with his friends to plan the robbery of a white man’s store.
Anger, fear, and frustration define Bigger’s daily existence, as he is forced to hide behind a façade of toughness or risk succumbing to despair. While Bigger and his gang have robbed many black-owned businesses, they have never attempted to rob a white man. Bigger sees whites not as individuals, but as a natural, oppressive force—a great looming “whiteness” pressing down upon him. Bigger’s fear of confronting this force overwhelms him, but rather than admit his fear, he violently attacks a member of his gang to sabotage the robbery. Left with no other options, Bigger takes a job as a chauffeur for the Daltons.
Coincidentally, Mr. Dalton is also Bigger’s landlord, as he owns a controlling share of the company that manages the apartment building where Bigger’s family lives. Mr. Dalton and other wealthy real estate barons are effectively robbing the poor, black tenants on Chicago’s South Side—they refuse to allow blacks to rent apartments in predominantly white neighborhoods, thus leading to overpopulation and artificially high rents in the predominantly black South Side. Mr. Dalton sees himself as a benevolent philanthropist, however, as he donates money to black schools and offers jobs to “poor, timid black boys” like Bigger. However, Mr. Dalton practices this token philanthropy mainly to alleviate his guilty conscience for exploiting poor blacks.
Mary, Mr. Dalton’s daughter, frightens and angers Bigger by ignoring the social taboos that govern the relations between white women and black men. On his first day of work, Bigger drives Mary to meet her communist boyfriend, Jan. Eager to prove their progressive ideals and racial tolerance, Mary and Jan force Bigger to take them to a restaurant in the South Side. Despite Bigger’s embarrassment, they order drinks, and as the evening passes, all three of them get drunk. Bigger then drives around the city while Mary and Jan make out in the back seat. Afterward, Mary is too drunk to make it to her bedroom on her own, so Bigger helps her up the stairs. Drunk and aroused by his unprecedented proximity to a young white woman, Bigger begins to kiss Mary.
Just as Bigger places Mary on her bed, Mary’s blind mother, Mrs. Dalton, enters the bedroom. Though Mrs. Dalton cannot see him, her ghostlike presence terrifies him. Bigger worries that Mary, in her drunken condition, will reveal his presence. He covers her face with a pillow and accidentally smothers her to death. Unaware that Mary has been killed, Mrs. Dalton prays over her daughter and returns to bed. Bigger tries to conceal his crime by burning Mary’s body in the Daltons’ furnace. He decides to try to use the Daltons’ prejudice against communists to frame Jan for Mary’s disappearance. Bigger believes that the Daltons will assume Jan is dangerous and that he may have kidnapped their daughter for political purposes. Additionally, Bigger takes advantage of the Daltons’ racial prejudices to avoid suspicion, continuing to play the role of a timid, ignorant black servant who would be unable to commit such an act.
Mary’s murder gives Bigger a sense of power and identity he has never known. Bigger’s girlfriend, Bessie, makes an offhand comment that inspires him to try to collect ransom money from the Daltons. They know only that Mary has vanished, not that she is dead. Bigger writes a ransom letter, playing upon the Daltons’ hatred of communists by signing his name “Red.” He then bullies Bessie to take part in the ransom scheme. However, Mary’s bones are found in the furnace, and Bigger flees with Bessie to an empty building. Bigger rapes Bessie and, frightened that she will give him away, bludgeons her to death with a brick after she falls asleep.
Bigger eludes the massive manhunt for as long as he can, but he is eventually captured after a dramatic shoot-out. The press and the public determine his guilt and his punishment before his trial even begins. The furious populace assumes that he raped Mary before killing her and burned her body to hide the evidence of the rape. Moreover, the white authorities and the white mob use Bigger’s crime as an excuse to terrorize the entire South Side .
Jan visits Bigger in jail. He says that he understands how he terrified, angered, and shamed Bigger through his violation of the social taboos that govern tense race relations. Jan enlists his friend, Boris A. Max, to defend Bigger free of charge. Jan and Max speak with Bigger as a human being, and Bigger begins to see whites as individuals and himself as their equal.
Max tries to save Bigger from the death penalty, arguing that while his client is responsible for his crime, it is vital to recognize that he is a product of his environment. Part of the blame for Bigger’s crimes belongs to the fearful, hopeless existence that he has experienced in a racist society since birth. Max warns that there will be more men like Bigger if America does not put an end to the vicious cycle of hatred and vengeance. Despite Max’s arguments, Bigger is sentenced to death.
Bigger is not a traditional hero by any means. However, Wright forces us to enter into Bigger’s mind and to understand the devastating effects of the social conditions in which he was raised. Bigger was not born a violent criminal. He is a “native son”: a product of American culture and the violence and racism that suffuse it.
3 months ago
Native Son (1940) is a novel written by
the American author Richard Wright. It
tells the story of 20-year-old Bigger
Thomas, an African American youth living
in utter poverty in a poor area on
Chicago's South Side in the 1930s.
While not apologizing for Bigger's crimes,
Wright portrays a systemic inevitability
behind them. Bigger's lawyer, Boris Max,
makes the case that there is no escape
from this destiny for his client or any
other black American since they are the
necessary product of the society that
formed them and told them since birth
who exactly they were supposed to be.
"No American Negro exists", James
Baldwin once wrote, "who does not have
his private Bigger Thomas living in his
skull." Frantz Fanon discusses the feeling
in his 1952 essay, L'expérience vécue du
noir (The Fact of Blackness). "In the end",
writes Fanon, "Bigger Thomas acts. To put
an end to his tension, he acts, he
responds to the world's anticipation." The
book was a successful and
groundbreaking best seller. However, it
was also criticized by Baldwin and others
as ultimately advancing Bigger as a
stereotype, not a real character.
Plot summary
Book One: Fear
Bigger Thomas awakens in a dark, small
room to the sound of the alarm clock. He
lives in one room with his brother Buddy,
his sister Vera, and their mother.
Suddenly, a rat appears. The room turns
into a maelstrom, and after a violent
chase, Bigger claims the life of the animal
with an iron skillet and terrorizes Vera
with the dead rodent. Vera faints, and
Mrs. Thomas scolds Bigger, who hates his
family because they suffer and he cannot
do anything about it.
That evening, Bigger has to see Mr. Dalton
for a new job. Bigger's family depends on
him. He would like to leave his
responsibilities forever, but when he
thinks of what to do, he only sees a blank
Bigger walks to the poolroom and meets
his friend, Gus. Bigger tells him that every
time he thinks about whites, he feels
something terrible will happen to him.
They meet other friends, G.H. and Jack,
and plan a robbery of the white wealth.
They are all afraid of attacking and
stealing from a white man, but none of
them wants to admit his concerns. Before
the robbery, Bigger and Jack go to the
movies. They are attracted to the world of
wealthy whites in the newsreel and feel
strangely moved by the tom-toms and the
primitive black people in the film, but they
also feel they are equal to those worlds.
After the film, Bigger returns to the
poolroom and attacks Gus violently,
forcing him to lick his blade in a
demeaning way to hide Bigger's own
cowardice. The fight ends any chance of
the robbery's occurring, and Bigger is
obscurely conscious that he has done this
When he finally gets the job, Bigger does
not know how to behave in Dalton's large
and luxurious house. Mr. Dalton and his
blind wife use strange words. They try to
be kind to Bigger, but they actually make
him very uncomfortable; Bigger does not
know what they expect of him.
Then their daughter, Mary, enters the
room, asks Bigger why he does not
belong to a union, and calls her father a
"capitalist". Bigger does not know that
word and is even more confused and
afraid to lose the job. After the
conversation, Peggy, an Irish cook, takes
Bigger to his room and tells him the
Daltons are a nice family, but he must
avoid Mary's Communist friends. Bigger
has never had a room for himself before.
That night, he drives Mary around and
meets her Communist boyfriend Jan.
Throughout the evening, Jan and Mary
talk to Bigger, oblige him to take them to
the diner where his friends are, invite him
to sit at their table, and tell him to call
them by their first names. Bigger does not
know how to respond to their requests
and becomes very frustrated, as he is
simply their chauffeur for the night. At the
diner, they buy a bottle of rum. Bigger
drives throughout Washington Park, and
Jan and Mary drink the rum and make out
in the back seat. Jan and Mary part, but
Mary is so drunk that Bigger has to carry
her to her bedroom when they arrive
home. He is terrified someone will see him
with her in his arms; however, he cannot
resist the temptation of the forbidden,
and he kisses her.
Just then, the bedroom door opens, and
Mrs. Dalton enters. Bigger knows she is
blind but is terrified she will sense him
there. He silences Mary by pressing a
pillow into her face. Mary claws at
Bigger's hands while Mrs. Dalton is in the
room, trying to alert Bigger that she
cannot breathe. Mrs. Dalton approaches
the bed, smells alcohol in the air, scolds
her daughter, and leaves. As Bigger
removes the pillow, he realizes that Mary
has suffocated. Bigger starts thinking
frantically, and decides he will tell
everyone that Jan, her Communist
boyfriend, took Mary into the house that
night. Thinking it will be better if Mary
disappears and everyone thinks she has
left Chicago, he decides in desperation to
burn her body in the house's furnace. Her
body would not originally fit through the
furnace opening, but after decapitating it,
Bigger finally manages to put the corpse
inside. He adds extra coal to the furnace,
leaves the corpse to burn, and goes home.
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