Organized Religion Exposed in Richard Wright’s Native SonIf the United States were to adopt a Communist government, it would be a better country. If Americans were to dispose of religion, they would be content people. If Richard Wright were to complete an assignment regarding the context of his novel, Native Son, the aforementioned arguments would be his focus. Wright, like all Marxists, believes that religion is “the opiate of the masses,” providing a surreal dream world with negative side effects. The representation of organized religion in Native Son supports Wright’s highly atheistic, Communistic views and his aspirations for the United States. By negatively using conventional religious symbols, such as the cross, prayer, God, colors, and numbers; and subtly mocking religious characters and organized religion, Wright emphasizes the wrongs of organized religion and the rights of atheism and Communism.
The symbol of the cross appears frequently throughout Native Son in order to stress the faults of organized religion and to promote the societal problems caused by capitalism. While the police transport Bigger to the prison from the Dalton household, a “flaming cross” (390) looms on a nearby hill, representing not only the hatred the Ku Klux Klan feels for Bigger, but also the animosity that all Christians in the community feel towards him. Religion brings Bigger no comfort: “[He has] a cross of salvation round his throat and they [are] burning one to tell him that they hate him” (391). At a time when Bigger turns to the symbol of salvation as he has been taught to do, the religious in his community use that same crucifix to damn him. Bigger, therefore, desires to “tear the cross from his throat and throw it away” (391)…
… synonymous with Communism. The atheistic Communists support the right to life and equality, and the religious capitalists persecute and abuse the poor in order to create a sound monetarily-based community. Yet, the capitalist government punishes Bigger contrarily to religious beliefs: although he comes before his judge at court and admits his faults, Bigger Thomas is sentenced to death, not salvation. “Men die alone” (496), as Max informs Bigger, because God-loving capitalists are driven by personal gain and dispose of those who disrupt the system, sentencing them to death, leaving them to waste away without showing them the love of their “God.”
Appiah, K. A. and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds. Richard Wright: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. New York: Amistad Press, 1993.
Wright, Richard. Native Son. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940.