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Othering in Richard Wright's "Native Son"


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In this paper the author tried to analyze “Native Son” by Richard Wright. The purpose is to analyze and understand the concept of othering. Theories that used are textual, cotextual, and hypertextual by close reading method. The writer found that this novel consist of othering as the result of discrimination. In conclusion, “Native Son” by Richard Wright s is easier to understand by analyzing othering.

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Othering in Richard Wright's "Native Son"

  1. 1. Othering in Richard Wright “Native Son” by Clara Ariski
  2. 2. Abstract In this paper the author tried to analyze “Native Son” by Richard Wright. The purpose is to analyze and understand the concept of othering. Theories that used are textual, cotextual, and hypertextual by close reading method. The writer found that this novel consist of othering as the result of discrimination. In conclusion, “Native Son” by Richard Wright s is easier to understand by analyzing othering. Keywords: Othering, discrimination, Native Son, Richard Wright
  3. 3. Introduction “Native Son” written by Richard Wright portrays a life of coloured people under oppression from whites. The main character is a fusion of what coloured people expected and a portrait of young Richard Wright, hateful and violent. This novel shows that the blame is not on white people because they also get the negative impact of racism. The cause of those problems is the structure of American Society and economic condition that should be changed.
  4. 4. Native Son Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Native Son is a story of Bigger Thomas life that comes to a head after he kills Marry, a white woman by mistake. As the result, he has to deal with the consequences for being black: suffers from oppression, discrimination, and poverty.
  5. 5. Othering In “Othering, an Analysis”, Lajos Brons defines othering: “Othering is the simultaneous construction of the self or in-group and the other or out-group in mutual and unequal opposition through identification of some desirable characteristic that the self/in-group has and the other/out-group lacks and/or some undesirable characteristic that the other/out-group has and the self/in-group lacks. Othering thus sets up a superior self/in-group in contrast to an inferior other/out-group, but this superiority/inferiority is nearly always left implicit.” (69) In another word, othering is an act of self or group that identifies the preferred or hated characteristics of other persons or groups, causing a sense of superiority or inferiority that not too obvious. In “Native Son” by Richard Wright there are several othering that can be found from white people to colored people and vice versa.
  6. 6. "And, too, they had never held up a white man before. They had always robbed Negroes. They felt it was much easier and safer to rob their own people, for they knew that white policeman never really searches diligently for Negroes who committed crimes against other Negroes." (p. 52) Robbery rate was higher that time. Even though robbery happened in many area, in many social rate, white policeman only care about their own race; they did not want to know about what happened outside their own race. They had this stereotype : 'Most robbers or criminal were black people'. Because of that, robbing in black neigbourhood was easier than robbing in white neighbourhood.
  7. 7. " If you wasn't black and if you had some money and if they'd let you go to that aviation school, you could fly a plane,' Gus said." (p. 55) From the quotation above, it linked to the education system that time. According to Jim Crow law, black and white people are prohibited for attending the same school; this rule applied till college. Besides, rich black people were so rare. Black people roled as manual workers and they were waged with low standard. "Goddammit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain't. They do things and we can't." (p. 58) The quotation are from the black people perspective. They realized that they were powerless in their own country, they had been intimidated. A lot of things that white people can and black people can not. Even for living, they had to be separated.
  8. 8. He was filled with a sense of excitement about his new job. Was what he had heard about rich white people really true? Was he going to work for people like you saw in the movies . . . ? He looked at Trader Horn unfold and saw pictures of naked black men and women whirling in wild dances . . . . (p. 72) This passage from chapter one appears as Bigger sits in the movie theater, thinking about his new job as the Daltons’ chauffeur. From these part, we see just how little contact Bigger has had with white people and the popular culture in determining societal attitudes, as Bigger is only able to imagine the Daltons’ lives by drawing upon movies that portray rich white people. It is indicates that Bigger’s attitude about whites are determined by popular culture. That is why the Americans (especially Bigger) imagine of blacks as savages and whites as millionaires.
  9. 9. 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 Dalton place, he head to go through a white neighborhood. He had not heard of any Negroes being molested recently, but he felt that it was always possible." (p. 81) Black and white people had separated neigborhood that time. Bigger scared but also excited to go through the white neighborhood. He scared because anything could happen to him and excited because he had his gun with him; it made him feel fine.
  10. 10. " 'Bigger, please! Don't say sir to me.... I don't like it. You 're a man just like I am; I'm no better than you. Maybe other white men like it. But I don't. Look, Bigger....' " (p. 110) This quotation is from Jan's perspective. That time, white people prefered being called 'Sir'. Calling them as 'Sir' showed the colored people gratitude toward them. "He scratched his head. How on earth he learn not to say yessuh and yessum to white people in one night when he had been saying it all his life long?" (p. 112) It is an irony. Colored people had been 'trained' to say 'Yes, Sir' or 'Yes, Ma'am' all the time. White people forced them; make them didn't equal as them.
  11. 11. "Cautiously, Bigger looked round; the waitresses and several people at other tables were staring at him. They all knew him and he knew what they were wondering as he would have wondered if he had been in their places." (p. 113) Based on Jim Crow law, restaurants wee also separated from white and colored people. It was strange to colored people that white people ate in a colored people restaurant. They can't help but stare at them. "He was black and he had alone in a room where a white had been killed; therefore he had killed her." (p. 114) Bigger Thomas had imagined what will people react. No matter what he said, people will judge him because he was a black. It has set on people's mind that black is always wrong.
  12. 12. Gee, what a fool she was, he thought, remembering how Mary had acted. Carrying on that way! Hell, she made me do it! I couldn’t help it! She should’ve known better! She should’ve left me alone, goddamit! (p. 151) That parts are the emotional expressions of Bigger when he remember what he has done, he was not feeling sorry for killing Mary, he felt that his murder of her was more than amply justified by the fear and shame she had made him feel. That feel not only because of Mary when he reacting to, but emotions conditioned by many white people like Mary.
  13. 13. He pictured her groping her way, her hands touching the walls. Sme must know this house like a book, he thought. He trembled with excitement. She was white and he was black; she was rich and he was poor; she was old and he was young; she was the boss and he was the worker. He was safe; yes.(p. 167) Richard Wright give othering expression in this part. Differences between the white and black are contrastly showed in that part. The author shows the commonly perception of American people about white and black folks, that the rich and the boss are always be white and the poor and the worker are always be black. 'Well, you see 'em one way and I see ' em another. To me, a nigger's a nigger" (p. 202) That was what Britten said about Bigger. He did not care about each person's quality, he only thought since Bigger was a black not a white, and a black was a nigger, so a nigger was a nigger and all nigger was the same. He only think about people on two ways, either he is a black or a white.
  14. 14. “Listen, Bigger,” said Britten. “Did you see this guy [Jan] act in any way out of the ordinary? I mean, sort of nervous, say? Just what did he talk about? “He talked about Communists. . . .” “Did he ask you to join?” “He gave me that stuff to read.” “Come on. Tell us some of the things he said.” Bigger knew the things that white folks hated to hear Negroes ask for; and he knew that these were the things the Reds were always asking for. And he knew that white folks did not like to hear these things asked for even by whites who fought for Negroes. (p. 234) In this part from chapter two, which Mr Britten questions Bigger about Mary’s disappearance, Bigger try to deflect suspicion from himself away by making the police believe that Jan, the red that who have relation with communists, is the accused one. Bigger using on white prejudice against black and communists.
  15. 15. “Though the Negro killer’s body does not seem compactly built, he gives the impression of possessing abnormal physical strength. He is about five feet, nine inches tall and his skin is exceedingly black. His lower jaw protrudes obnoxiously, reminding one of a jungle beast. His arms are long, hanging in a dangling fashion to his knees. It is easy to imagine how this man, in the grip of a brain- numbing sex passion, overpowered little Mary Dalton, raped her, murdered her, beheaded her, then stuffed her body into a roaring furnace to destroy the evidence of his crime. “ (p. 213) From the newspapers citations that Bigger read indicates the media is totally crass in delivering the news, they depict coloured people as vile, ugly, stupid, and immoral. Othering derived from the print media is very dangerous because through persuasive words they can influence many readers.
  16. 16. We of the South believe that the North encourages Negroes to get more education than they are organically capable of absorbing, with the result that northern Negroes are generally more unhappy and restless than those of the South. (p. 214) White people assume that black people are not able to receive a proper education because they are stupid. Thus the coloured people in the north are considered to have aggressive or malicious code. “Mr. Coroner,” Max said. “This is outrageous! Your indecent exhibition of that girl’s dead body serves no purpose but that of an incitement to mob violence.….” (p. 249) The white man does not respect the privacy of black people by showing Bessie’s corpses in order to provide indirect evidence about the allegations of rape.
  17. 17. “What in hell you Reds can get out of bothering with a black thing like that, God only knows,”(p. 222) the citation indicates that the white man does not regard black people as human beings, but think of them as an object of abomination. Max, you know what some white men say we black men do? They say we rape white women when we got the clap and they say we do that because we believe that if we rape white women then we’ll get rid of the clap. That’s what some white men say. They believe that. (p. 265) In some previous opinion that necessarily do not have any strong foundation, white people stating that the coloured man has interest in white women. therefore they assume bigger was trying to rape Mary.
  18. 18. Conclusion “Native Son” written by Richard Wright contains othering as the result of discrimination. Othering is not only experienced by coloured people, as the oppressed, but also white people. The main cause of gap between two races are the social and economic structure.
  19. 19. References Brons, Lajos. 2015. Othering, An Analysis. Retrieved from Augoustinos, Martha, and Katherine J Reynolds. 2001. Understanding Prejudice, Racism, And Social Conflict. London: SAGE. Wright, Richard, and John Reilly. 1966. Native Son. New York: Harper & Row.