The Trial of Bigger Thomas: Race, Gender, and Trespass


Richard Wright’s Native Son, the first novel by an African American to be featured as a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, was nothing short of groundbreaking in the annals of American literature. The novel opens with the sound of an alarm going off—Richard Wright’s wake-up call to America to open its eyes and address issues of race and class—and ends with its protagonist Bigger Thomas awaiting execution for the rape and murder of a white woman. Though considered incendiary in the South— Native Son was banned in Birmingham, Alabama, for example—across the rest of the nation, Native Son debuted as a bestseller, and was lauded as an instant classic. Although Richard Wright went on to complete other works, including his two-volume autobiography Black Boy (1945) and American Hunger (1977), the existential novel The Outsider (1953), and the collection of essays White Man, Listen! (1957), it is for Native Son that he is best known.

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