Books and Movies Reviews

Wright and Dostoevsky

Both Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in Crime and Punishment and Richard
Wright, in Native Son look to men who have been pushed beyond reason into
murder, and both authors ask us what justice means in such a context. The
answers that the authors provide are quite different – which should
hardly be surprising since both authors suggest that ideas of justice
must reflect the local realities of life in a given place and time and
the settings for each of the novels is dramatically different. But the
answers that each provides are also strikingly open-ended: We must
ourselves decide in the end what justice was granted and what denied to
Both novels ask us to decide for ourselves what moral action is
possible in a society in which justice is scarce, and our answer to that
question in large measure will reflect our own experiences of how justice
A Man With No Place To Go
Wright’s novel – arguably one of the most influential American
books of the 20th century – relates the story of Bigger Thomas, a man who
had never had a fair chance in life because of the racism he faces as an
African-American. We see him traveling downward through society and we
can predict that his actions will lead him (as in fact they do) to crime
and punishment. As a young black man in a decade (the 1930s) and a place
(Chicago) that sees him as only being of possible use as a slightly more
intelligent than average beast of burden) he is trapped and made
desperate by a future in which the walls will continue to close in on
him. His desperation, and his anger (as well as his underlying
personality) lead him to the edge of violence and then push him over and
he murders a young white woman. From this moment on he cannot hope to
find any help, any hope, in a society that already had very little use
He is abandon…

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