Bigger Thomas is the dynamic protagonist of Native Son who is born with optical vision. Although part one of the novel clearly demonstrates that Bigger is blessed with literal sight, he is metaphorically blind—that is, until he kills Mary Dalton. Bigger then gains vision—realization that he can, in fact, decide his own fate—and this new knowledge becomes his weapon and source of power. In almost every novel, the author manipulates the protagonist in order to make a specific claim. In the case of Native Son, Richard Wright fosters the character of Bigger Thomas through the use of sight and blindness in order to accentuate the dehumanizing effects of segregation.
Bigger gains “sight” after he kills a white person, and not just any white person, but the daughter of a millionaire. That makes him realize that he can decide his future, and whether it would be good or bad, it doesn’t matter to Bigger as long as he is the one who decides it. That is why throughout Bigger’s numerous interrogations, he is not scared, because he knows that he can “take his life into his own hands, and dispose of it as he pleased, as long as he decides just when and where he would run to.” (144) This means that Bigger becomes a more mature and three-dimensional character, one who steps beyond the white’s expectations of him. The Dalton family, Jan and Biggen don’t suspect that Bigger is the murderer, because his black skin makes them expect ignorance and naivety from him. But the fact is, Bigger is not oblivious, and he himself realizes this after he kills Mary. This makes him feel that there was “a kind of eagerness he felt, a confidence, a fulness, a freedom.” (111) With that said, Bigger’s murder freed his soul; freed his belief that white people controlled his fate; freed his fear and shame—the two concepts that bounded him to his black peers and what would have been his destiny. Bigger is no longer the ignorant, incapable fool his white peers took him for in the beginning of the novel.
After Bigger frees himself, he realizes how much he is capable of, and the reader begins to see the other sides of Bigger’s character. In the beginning of the novel, Bigger is portrayed as a typical negro of his time: ignorant, troublesome and prone to complaining about how white people “don’t let us do nothing.” (22) When Bigger finally does something with his life—in his case, kill Miss Dalton—, the reader learns that segregation not only results in whites not thinking and treating blacks as humans, but vice versa. This is when the reader begins to witness the dehumanizing effects of segregation on Bigger. He begins to see white people as less and less human, and that is how Bigger consoles himself. Bigger knows he killed a person, but he justifies his actions with the fact that the person he killed is white. Typically in society, murdering another human is wrong, and if the murderer doesn’t believe that (s)he committed a felony, then usually the verdict is that (s)he is insane. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Bigger is not insane. And if Bigger is not insane, then how can he truly say that his heinous actions are morally acceptable? Bigger can make this claim because he doesn’t believe that white people are human. Bigger no longer shows compassion toward his white peers—a characteristic often intertwined with humanity.
As Gina mentioned earlier, all character in Native Son, are “sketched more in shades of ethical grey than in solid good and evil, black and white.” This can not be more than true for Bigger Thomas, who Wright uses to demonstrate that segregation not only isolates and limits the the opportunities of blacks, but dehumanizes the African-American population as well.