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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book, a literary classic, takes place in a racially divided, violent, and sometimes sexually explicit setting. The power of this book lies in its gritty, straightforward, and controversial depiction of the results of institutionalized racism and bigotry in the United States. There is racially charged language, two murders, a rape, other sexual activity, and capital punishment.
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What's the story?
Bigger Thomas is a 20-year-old man living in the 1930s on the very poor South Side of Chicago with his mother, brother, and sister. He has no job and makes money with a few of his friends by robbing and stealing, living the life of a petty thug and a bully. Bigger's whole life is characterized by feelings of fear, dread, and isolation. He hides his fear by being the biggest, baddest bully. His life takes a turn when he gets a job working as a driver for a very rich man, Mr. Dalton. After leaving the ghetto and moving into the white world, Bigger's greatest fears and insecurities begin to manifest with alarming speed. After a terrible accident involving Mr. Dalton's daughter, Bigger finds himself in the same position as a large rat he once killed in his family's tiny apartment -- trapped, desperate, and looking for a way out, no matter who he has to hurt. Will Bigger find freedom, or will his story end the way society has taught him to believe it will?
Is it any good?
NATIVE SON, Richard Wright's classic novel of tragedy and violence, is intense. Wright is masterful in taking readers into Bigger's mind and explaining the processes that shape his behavior, emotional state, and decision-making process. Readers will be confronted with several uncomfortable and tragic issues, not the least of which is wondering whether the world is still anything like the one Bigger endures in the book.
This is a great read for anyone wanting to delve into the societal and psychological consequences of oppression, segregation, and poverty -- historically and today. It is definitely not suitable for younger children, and parents should be prepared to discuss the tough questions and situations in the novel.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about other "isms" -- sexism, ageism, religious intolerance, etc. and how they affect people. Can you give examples of sexism, etc.? Have you ever felt as if people were judging you based on your age, gender, religion, or race? How did it make you feel? Did it change the way you see and treat people different from you?
Native Son is considered a classic of American literature, and is often required reading in high school. Why do you think it is?
Families can also talk about the effects of isolation and the fear. Have you ever felt alone and thought no one would understand how you felt? Do you ever put on an angry face when you are really just sad and lonely?
There is a continuing debate over capital punishment, and recent high-profile cases of wrongful convictions have added fuel to the fire. Should communities be allowed to decide who lives or dies?
Themes & Topics
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For kids who love learning about African-American experience
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.