Opinion Piece: On James Baldwin

James Baldwin

In his essay “Many Thousands Gone,” James Baldwin astutely examines Richard Wright’s novel Native Son and convincingly argues that the protagonist, Bigger Thomas, was a product of a broken system of poverty and racism. He goes on to suggest that Bigger felt “alive” when he accidentally smothered Mary, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dalton, and cut off her head and stuffed her body in the Dalton’s furnace. Baldwin further states that every Black person has their own Bigger Thomas living in their skull. This assertion is particularly relevant to me, as a Black man who has experienced racism firsthand. I cannot deny that Baldwin’s words are accurate, and it is profoundly disheartening that such a sentiment is still applicable in today’s society.

The American republic has created a monstrous figure in Bigger Thomas, and we are forced to confront this reality and experience his plight. It is a tragedy that elicits both pity and horror, for his fate is both unavoidable and devastating. We are reminded of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, wherein the protagonist, gripped by the same poverty as Bigger, commits a heinous act of murder. It is a stark reminder of the consequences of the American republic’s failure to provide adequate resources and opportunities to its citizens, and it is a tragedy that should be met with indignation and outrage.

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