Native Son Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Native Son: Novel Summary

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Book 1, Chapters 1-2

Book First – ‘The Three Women’
Summary – Chapter One and Chapter Two
It is a Saturday afternoon in November and it is approaching twilight. The ‘vast tract of unenclosed wild’, which is known as Egdon Heath, embrowns itself and this contrasts with the whitish cloud. The place becomes full of ‘watchful intentness’ and every night it seems to ‘await something’ and has done so unmoved for centuries ‘through the crises of so many things’. It can only be imagined ‘to await one last crisis – the final overthrow’. It is not ‘charming and fair’ and appeals instead to a ‘subtler and scarcer instinct’.
The storm is Egdon’s ‘lover’ and the wind is its ‘friend’. At present, it is a place ‘perfectly accordant with man’s nature’, as it is ‘slighted and enduring’ and ‘colossal and swarthy’ in its monotony. It is recorded in Domesday as a wilderness and remains unchanged. Unchanged that is except for an aged highway that crosses the lower level of the heath. On this evening, the white surface of the road is almost as clear as ever.
In Chapter Two, an old man is described as walking along the road. There are anchors on the faces of his buttons and he is using a walking stick. He looks as though he would have been a naval officer in his day. A vehicle approaches travelling in his direction and the van and the driver are completely red. This signifies it is a reddleman driving, and this is a man who supplies farmers with redding for their sheep.
The two walk together in silence after wishing each other good evening and the younger man occasionally looks into the van with an air of anxiety. After the fifth time, the old man asks who is inside and is told it is a young woman. The reddleman says bitterly that she is not his wife as ‘she’s above mating with such as I’. The old man asks if he can see her (after being told she is not well and is good looking), but is told no. He then asks if she is the girl from Blooms-End who has been talked about lately and if so he knows her. The reddleman says ‘tis no matter’ and explains they will have to part company.
The reddleman then looks at the heath and his eyes finally settle on a barrow and a figure on it. The figure moves and the movement is enough to show that this is a woman. She vanishes and other silhouettes appear; we are told she has no relation to these forms.
Analysis – Chapters One and Two
The first chapter dwells on the significance and timelessness of the heath where the novel is set. This place is described as a wilderness and has been so since time immemorial and its vastness signifies how small (and absurd) humanity is in comparison with it.
In Chapter Two, there is the faintest of introductions to the reddleman as he takes care of a mystery woman in his van. Although brief, this first glimpse of him is telling as despite his occupation and appearance which are both often regarded as fearful or lowly by certain characters in the novel, he is characteristically as altruistic and loyal as he first appears.


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