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One of the most discussed murders in modern American literature is Bigger Thomas, the protagonist of Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940). The novel centers on the last days of Bigger’s life, as he commits two homicides, extortion, and rape. These crimes led to a death sentence of the electric chair after a flimsy trial. While it might appear at first that Bigger’s situation is simply a result of the racism of the late 1930s, with the segregated South Side noticing and hating the disparity they see compared to the more affluent white residents in neighboring burgs, I would argue that the situation is more nuanced and complex than just simply that of a racial socioeconomic disparity. Due to the way that his peers and other African Americans react to Bigger’s behavior, I posit that Bigger actually suffers from an antisocial personality disorder which has created a negative feedback loop with his surroundings. He is trapped in a cycle that is terribly difficult to escape from because of the way his environment, genetics, and reactions have conditioned him to behave and believe. In understanding why Bigger behaves the way he does, I aim to bring understanding to both extreme cases like his and to those whose psychological disorders are not as severe.


This paper was presented in partial fulfillment of the Senior Literature Seminar (ENG 4903) taught by Professor Jennifer Pittman.