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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
BIGGER'S FLIGHT AND CAPTURE
Bigger flees eight thousand armed men pursuing him. He is finally captured.
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Bigger steals a newspaper and hides in another abandoned building. The news story about him assumes he was a rapist. It describes the reaction of the white community to his crime: whites are attacking blacks on the street, smashing the windows of their homes, and firing them from their jobs. One news item particularly galls Bigger. The police assume that Jan had something to do with the crime because they cannot believe a black could have done it by himself. Bigger also discovers that the police are searching the South Side door to door. They are closing in on him.
Bigger is extremely cold and hungry.
Wright's description of Bigger's hunger may strike you as especially vivid. Remember that Wright knew hunger first-hand as a child and rarely had enough to eat.
Bigger looks into an apartment. He sees a couple making love with their three
children watching and remembers similar childhood experiences in his own
one-room apartment. He is aware of the contrast between the large, empty
abandoned buildings and the one-room apartments in which black families
are forced to live. In this section, Wright provides ample evidence both
for those who see Native Son as primarily sociological, a protest against
unjust conditions, and for those who view it as primarily psychological,
a portrait of a man fighting back against impossible odds. Bigger thinks
about the scarcity of apartments in the Black Belt, a scarcity created
by the confinement of blacks to one small neighborhood and by the frequent
condemnation of buildings within that area. He also thinks about rents
for blacks being higher than rents for whites, about businesses in black
neighborhoods being owned by whites, and about the prices being higher
than those of businesses in white sections of the city. How much has changed
since Wright's time?
While Wright fills in the details of the racist social context that produced Bigger, he also keeps returning to Bigger's personal struggle. Bigger debates whether he should give up or keep fighting. You might see this conflict as a new level of Bigger's perpetual struggle between sleepy indifference and angry tension. Wright contrasts Bigger's attitude to that of other blacks. Bigger overhears two black men arguing. One blames the Bigger Thomases of the black community for the fact that whites mistreat blacks. The other says that whites will hate blacks no matter what. Blacks should fight back and stand up for Bigger Thomas, he says. Even within the world of the novel, Bigger Thomas is becoming a symbol of something larger than himself.
Bigger falls asleep and awakens to hear a church congregation singing. Despite finding religion tempting, he refuses to accept it. He finds an empty apartment in which to hide. A newspaper reports that eight thousand armed men are closing in on him, and when he hears them arrive at his building, he climbs to the roof. They find him there, and he flees. As Bigger realizes that he will be captured, he begins to retreat behind his "wall" or "curtain" of indifference. He hides on top of a water tank, but they wash him down with a fire hose. As Bigger falls, remember Gus's description of his feeling of falling. Also look back on Bigger's fall from the Daltons' window. Bigger wanted to fly, but his attempt ends in a fall, a fall foreshadowed early in the novel. The police drag Bigger by the feet with his head banging along the ground. Remember Bigger's violence against heads (the rat's, Mary's, and Bessie's) and his dream about his own bloody head. The police stretch Bigger out as if to crucify him. He loses consciousness.
For a novel that uses much socially accurate detail, Native Son also employs many recurring symbols. For example, as the white mob closes in on Bigger, the color white seems to appear everywhere-in the white snow, the white map, the white milk Bigger imagines, the "white heat" the newspapers speak of. Animal imagery also abounds in this urban jungle: Bigger envies the rat he sees; one black man says that his people are all "dogs" to whites; at one point, Bigger is "on all fours." The whites who seemed to Bigger like a natural force use rushing water to capture him. The water, which comes from a fire hose, douses Bigger, a man who has felt a fire in his stomach and whose emotional state has already been compared to a furnace.