Was Bigger Thomas an Uptalker?

The funniest moment in Native Son (not a novel known for its comedy, I know): when the detective, Mr. Britten, is asking the housekeeper, Peggy, a bunch of questions about Bigger Thomas, to see if Thomas is in fact a Communist.

Britten: When he talks, does he wave his hands around a lot, like he’s been around a lot of Jews?

Peggy: I never noticed, Mr. Britten.

Britten: Now, listen, Peggy. Think and try to remember if his voice goes up when he talks, like Jews, when they talk. Know what I mean? You see, Peggy, I’m trying to find out if he’s been around Communists.

Interesting side note: how much more terrified the white power structure in that novel is of the Reds than of black people; though the two fears are obviously mingled, the anticommunist phobia is much more overt.

Other interesting side note: Along with Invisible Man, Native Son is one of Clarence Thomas’s favorite novels.


  1. yastreblyansky October 18, 2017 at 4:14 pm | #

    Side-side note: Reading that dialogue to myself, I hear Britten uptalking practically every sentence. I’m sure Wright must have intended that, though the meaning isn’t obvious (a wry commentary on the vanity of stereotype?).

    • yastreblyansky October 18, 2017 at 4:17 pm | #

      Or was that your whole point in the first place?

  2. jonnybutter October 18, 2017 at 6:16 pm | #

    Native Son (not a novel known for its comedy, I know)

    Clarence Thomas also not known for his sense of humor. OTOH, I haven’t studied him, so for all I know he’s a grim stand up comic.

  3. Edward October 19, 2017 at 10:03 pm | #

    Wright would know about this kind of thing; he was chairman of the Reed communist book club in Chicago. There is a funny story in his autobiography “American Hunger” about that club which was embraced by the mainstream press because it embarrassed the communists..

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