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During The Exposition Of Richard Wright’S Native Son, Jan

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During the exposition of Richard Wright’s Native Son, Jan Erlone, a white man, smiles and initiates a cordial handshake with Bigger Thomas, a black boy. Bigger is highly suspicious of this gesture, so much so that he can barely bring himself to shake Jan’s hand. As a dark-skinned male 20-year old living in Chicago’s South Side during the 1930s, Bigger had good reason to be dubious of Jan’s intentions. It is not unlikely that he had not experienced this kind of interaction with a white person until this moment. To make matters more complicated, Mary Dalton, a white girl, is encouraging this interaction and being kind to Bigger herself. Bigger knows that if someone sees him interacting with Mary on friendly terms, they will think Bigger is…show more content…
Jan’s cordial treatment of Bigger as just an ordinary person allows Jan to tell himself that he is a good person, since black people should be treated with kindness. What Jan doesn’t think about is the emotional conflict this puts Bigger through. As a black boy interacting with a white man in the 1930’s, Bigger has every reason to hold distrust toward Jan. Even if Jan were able to cause Bigger to trust him, as a white man, Bigger would then have to do the emotional work of determining which white people he could trust. The alternative of perceiving all white people as dangerous is actually much easier and safer for Bigger.
Previous to this interaction, Mary describes Jan to Bigger as “a friend of yours” (505) (of Bigger’s). Later, while the trio is eating at Ernie’s Kitchen Shack, Mary says, “You know, Bigger, we’d like to be friends of yours.” (515) However, this is a one-way “friendship”. Mary admits that she doesn’t know much about the lives of the black people residing only 10 blocks from her own residence in Chicago. This is clear, since if she had bothered to learn about the lives of her black neighbors, she would know what a large social taboo it is for Bigger to be friendly to her, and how uncomfortable her unrestrained kindness is for him. When Mary tries to ameliorate Bigger’s uneasiness with Jan’s cordiality by telling him that “Jan means it” (507), does she think that’s all that needs to be done to establish trust? She acts as if she could
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