Blindness. What does it mean to be blind? In Native Son, Bigger is obsessed with the notion of blindness, and the idea that after killing Mary, he now can finally see. “He sat at the table watching the snow fall past the window and many things became plain. No he did not have to hide behind a wall or a curtain now; he had a safer way of being safe, and easier way. What he had done last night proved that. Jan was blind. Mary had been blind. Mr. Dalton was blind. And Mrs. Dalton was blind; yes, blind in more ways than one. Bigger smiled slightly” (107). The Daltons believe they are helping Bigger by employing him, donating money to Negroes, and encouraging him to attend school, but they are completely blind to what it truly means to live on the other side of the color line. Mr. Dalton justifies charging exorbitant rent by donating ping-pong tables to the youth center. Mrs. Dalton pushes Bigger to attend college rather than getting to know him and finding out what can truly make a difference in his life. They are blind to what life is really like outside the safety of their own home.
Mary and Jan are also blind in their attempts to show Bigger kindness. They try to treat him like their equal, without even noticing how uncomfortable they are making him. Mary and Jan are blind to the fact that they are making Bigger more aware of the color of his skin than he ever was before. “She… It was… Hell, I don’t know. She asked me a lot of questions. She acted and talked in a way that made me hate her. She made me feel like a dog. I was so mad I wanted to cry…” (350).
This notion of blindness extends to Bigger’s family, as Bigger sees them for the first time, living in their one room apartment, going about their lives, lives Bigger now sees as pathetic. Killing Mary allowed Bigger to feel, for the first time in his life, that he was capable of doing something no one expected him to do. He is elated at the thought of being able to “see” in a world that is blind. It isn’t until Bigger ends up in prison, facing death row that he truly sees for the first time. “I know I’m going to get it. I’m going to die. Well, that’s all right now. But really I never wanted to hurt nobody. That’s the truth, Mr. Max. I hurt folks ‘cause I felt I had to; that’s all” (425). Finally, at the end of the novel, Bigger sees himself for who he really is. He accepts his fate, he explains to Max: “I didn’t want to kill!… But what I killed for, I am! It must’ve been pretty deep in me to make me kill!… I didn’t know I was really alive in this world until I felt things hard enough to kill for ‘em” (429). This realization of who he is allows Bigger to die in peace, but at the same time causes Max to pull back in horror. Is he horrified that Bigger truly has no other place in the world than to be a murderer on death row? Or is he horrified that the current system has led a young black man to think this is his only option? Is Max, for the first time, able to see?