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Bigger Thomas: A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

Bigger Thomas: A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

Richard Wright came to Chicago in 1927, one of thousands of African American migrants from the South. Living on the South Side, Wright saw first-hand the dramatic racial and class divides which separated blacks and whites. He described this chasm through the eyes of his character Bigger Thomas in Native Son (1940). Native Son opens with Bigger Thomas awaking to a huge black rat in the single room in Douglas which he shared with his brother, sister, and mother. Later, Bigger journeys south into Kenwood, an all-white affluent neighborhood, in search of work. Bigger chose to carry a knife and gun with him:

He was going among white people, so he would take his knife and his gun; it would make him feel that he was the equal of them, give him a sense of completeness. Then he thought of a good reason why he should take it; in order to get to the Dalton place, he had to go through a white neighborhood. He had not heard of any Negroes being molested recently, but he felt that it was always possible.

So armed, Bigger Thomas walked south to 46th Street. He saw that the

houses he passed were huge; lights glowed softly in windows. The streets were empty, save for an occasional car that zoomed past on swift rubber tires. This was a cold and distant world; a world of white secrets carefully guarded.

Richard Wright. Native Son. 1940.