Compare and contrast the characters of Mrs Thomas and Bessie Mears in Richard Wright’s Native Son.
Native Son, written by Richard Wright is built on characters. Two such characters are Mrs Thomas and Bessie Mears upon whom part of the plot rests.
These two characters are very relevant in that they hold close relationships with Bigger Thomas, the protagonist of the text. Mrs Thomas is the mother of Bigger Thomas and the matriarch of the Thomas family. Bessie Mears is Bigger Thomas’ symbiotic girlfriend. These two characters have a lot of things in common. They are not without their differences either. Their similarities and differences will be examined in the subsequent paragraphs of this essay.
The first point of convergence between these two characters is their colour and social status in the American society. Both Bessie and Mrs Thomas are black and because they are black, they are poor. They belong to the conditioned part of the society. They are horded to a corner of Southside Chicago infamously tagged Black Belt where they live in depravity and ramshackle structures. Their kindred are from ‘the lowest rung of the social ladder’ of the American society. It therefore applies that like these people in that stratum of the society, Mrs Thomas and Bessie Mears are in pitiable lack.
Furthermore, they are deprived the right to good and standard education. In fact, they are no better than Bigger who did not go beyond the Eight Grade.
In the Black Belt of Southside Chicago where they are restricted to for their accomodation and everyday affairs, they could hardly break the bar set by the white to claim their rights. They are robbed of their humanity and subjected to cruel inhumane treatment by the looming white populace.
To earn a living and make both ends meet, the two women do menial and meagre-paying jobs. Say, Bessie Mears specifically is an employee of Ernie’s Kitchen Shack, a restaurant meant for the coloreds. Mrs Thomas, though not explicitly stated, can be implied of having a similar low-wage job. It is from the stipends each character earns that each of them pays their highly exorbitant tenement rates respectively.
Both Mrs Thomas and Bessie Mears escape from the biting realities to keep their sanity intact. Only that they take different escape routes. On the part of Mrs Thomas, she clutches to Christianity like a drowning man holds fast to any straw of fibre drawn to him by the current. Her religious songs and talks about God clearly profess this. Her non-swerving belief in afterlife is another point to talk about. She strongly believes that the sybaritic paradise will make up for all her sufferings on earth. Another talking point is how she brings in the clergy, one Reverend Hammond, to Bigger in detention. She wants Bigger Thomas to profess his belief in Christ so he can be redeemed from eternal damnation in the pit of hell. These inform how much Mrs Thomas has put religion in use in a clear attempt to escape from the reality.
In the case of Bessie, she takes to alcohol and, to some extent, sex inorder to escape from the harsh realities of living like an outcast in a society that does not accept the people of her race as human beings. Her boyfriend and would-be murderer readily gives these two things to her though in a “give and take” arrangement. Bigger brings her alcohol while Bessie offers him her body so they can satisfy their sexual urge.
Beyond a cursory look into these two characters, one may easily conclude that Mrs Thomas is more of a holy woman while Bessie Mears seems to one a lady neck-deep in the ways of the world and sins of the flesh.
Aside from that, Bessie is a gullible and not really disciplined lady. This is aptly justified by how she easily submits to Bigger’s kidnap plans. By agreeing to be coerced by Bigger in the first instance, she throws one a picture of a pliant lady; easily bent and manipulated by external forces. On the other hand, Mrs Thomas is the direct contrast. As the matriarch of the Thomas family, she runs the family with principles and well found conviction. Unlike Bessie, she is not easily deceived by Bigger’s lies and deceit. Take for example her insistence and prevalence on Bigger to accept the Dalton’s job offer. The time issue is yet another good reference point. Bigger, inorder to provide an alibi for himself, claims he comes back home a little around 02:00 AM when the truth is that he comes a little after 04:00 AM. Mrs Thomas insists on the truth nonetheless despite several denials by Bigger.
Their similarities and distinct differences notwithstanding, Mrs Thomas and Bessie Mears in their own respective ways have a firm hold on the character of Bigger Thomas in Native Son.