Growing up in a small midwestern town, happily surrounded by generations of family and friends, in a nurturing environment of assumed social responsibility was, for me, a breeding ground for ignorance. Until I read Native Son, I did not imagine the existence of a world like that of Bigger Thomas'. Bigger was a painfully self-aware young black man who was facing starvation, yet was constantly tormented by the daily exposure to a better life that he could never have. He wanted, more than anything, the freedom to "chart his own course." Yet, the impossibly narrow range of allowed experiences for a black man in the mid-twentieth century left him frightened, humiliated, and angry. Bigger's violence was self-destructive - yet it was no more so than his passive reactions to oppression had been. Few of the (sometimes) criminal choices that he made for himself contributed to ending his life. It is the choices made for him, by fate and society, that led him to the electric chair.
From Books That Inspire 2002.