The Role of Mary Dalton in Native Son

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About this sample


Words: 805 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 805|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

In Book One of Richard Wrights novel “Native Son,” Mary Dalton is, to her parents’ disapproval, a member of the Communist movement set in 1930’s Chicago. Mary attempts to achieve her dream of extinguishing the barriers between African-Americans and Caucasians by treating Bigger Thomas in an extremely warm and informal manner. This sparks a sense of bewilderment in Bigger, who is accustomed to being treated inferiorly by the whites, and grows uncertain in how he should behave around her. Mary’s ignorance, naïve nature, and “good intentions” ultimately condemn her to a blazing furnace, metaphorically comparable to her form of “hell,” and her gruesome death proves to haunt Bigger in the form of searing flashbacks throughout the remainder of Book One.

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Mary Dalton unwittingly induces her own demise in several ways. She brands her first impression on Bigger when she appears in a movie he watches. Her leisure lifestyle is characterized by abundant wealth and squandering, which fills Bigger with “a sense of excitement about his new job.” The fact that she has indirectly persuaded Bigger to accept the job vaguely, yet eventually results in her murder. On a more precise scale, a majority of Mary’s numerous actions also act as tinder that sets alight to her death. For example, she constantly moves within very close proximities of Bigger. He is able to “smell the odor of her hair” and at one point, Mary even has “her face some six inches from his.” Although Miss Dalton feels that these actions exude a welcoming feeling, it inevitably evokes an attraction in Bigger, with Mary being the object of interest. In addition, she also allows herself to become heavily intoxicated by drinking large quantities of rum with her Communist beau, Jan Erlone. When Mary arrives home with Bigger, she cannot reach her bedroom without assistance. Bigger escorts her, which leaves him alone with Mary in her room, presenting a troubling situation. As a result, Mary’s recklessness and overtly inviting manner contributes to her unfortunate fate.

Although Mary attempts to help African-Americans, she knows little about them. As a result, she immediately attempts to befriend Bigger just because he is black, not for who he is as an individual. She exemplifies this when she asks Jan if he knows any African-Americans, then states “I want to meet some.” In addition, she attempts to sing their “spirituals” but Bigger secretly acknowledges that it is the wrong tune. Afterwards, she further demonstrates her lack of knowledge when she states that she wants to see a black home and claims that they “must live like we live.” She later generalizes African-Americans by praising that they “have so much emotion.” Although she does not realize it, Mary’s stereotypical view of blacks stems as a form of just what she is trying to combat with Jan-racism. Instead of making Bigger feel equal, she does the opposite, by making him feel more aware of “his black skin.” As a result, Bigger develops a sense of mild contempt, along with fear and confusion, towards Mary and Jan.

Although Mary Dalton’s character only briefly appears in the story, she plays a vital role. Her political affiliation with the Communists provides an outlet for escape for Bigger Thomas. Her murder also eternally changes Bigger’s life, and now he is constantly burdened with his crime. However, this provides him with a sense of satisfaction, and he now feels his life has purpose. Bigger’s character transitions from feeling as if his life as an African-American is “just like living in jail” to now having the responsibility as well as the thrill of dodging the consequences of his committed atrocity. In addition, Mary Dalton’s character also provides a focal point for comparison to Bigger. Mary is a rebel who goes against her parents’ wishes by dating a Communist and supporting their cause. However, she feels as if there is little hope in the success of this “revolution” and expresses that she feels “helpless and useless. On the other hand, Bigger rebels against society, and its racial standards. He also feels as if he has no hope as an African-American. Their nonconformist and hopeless personalities eventually clash and yields Mary’s death as a result, emphasizing her effect on Bigger, the main character.

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In conclusion, the incorporation of Mary Dalton’s character in Richard Wrights, “Native Son,” is essential. Mary’s role in the novel is essential to the development of Bigger Thomas’s character. Her short-comings also shed light upon the difficulty of overcoming racial obstacles in the 1930’s. Although she desperately wanted to help African-Americans, she was simply not educated enough about issues regarding their race and their positions among society. Through Mary Dalton’s character, Richard Wright demonstrates that even if one intends to do well, their attempts are futile where ignorance exists.

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The Role of Mary Dalton in Native Son. (2018, Jun 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
“The Role of Mary Dalton in Native Son.” GradesFixer, 01 Jun. 2018,
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