Mary Dalton

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In Richard Wright's Native Son, Mary Dalton is the daughter of the wealthy white Chicago realtor Mr. Dalton, who owns the rat-infested slum tenement in which Bigger Thomas and his family live and who hires Bigger as his family chauffeur. Mary's chief interaction with Bigger occurs during and after the time she involves him, as her chauffeur, in her clandestine love affair with the Communist Jan Erlone. She is oblivious to the discomfort she causes Bigger, who has always known whites only from a distance and who is frightened and intimidated by her socioeconomic class as well as her race. Mary and Jan force Bigger to accompany them to a restaurant in the ghetto for dinner. Later Bigger drives Mary and Jan around the city while they drink and make love in the backseat. Jan leaves the intoxicated Mary with Bigger to be driven home. Bigger half carries her to her room and becomes sexually aroused by this contact with her. The blind Mrs. Dalton enters the room, and Bigger, terrified, forces a pillow down over Mary's face in order to keep her quiet. By the time Mrs. Dalton leaves the room, Mary has suffocated, killed by Bigger's dread of the consequences of a black man being discovered in the bedroom of a white woman. Bigger, terror-stricken, carries Mary's body to the cellar in a trunk that was to accompany her on a trip to Detroit the next day. He forces her body into the blazing furnace, then leaves, imagining a version of the events of the preceding evening that will point to Jan as Mary's murderer. Later on, he feels a sense of exhilaration because in his violence against Mary he has dared to act outside the conventions governing interrelations between the races.

—Donald B. Gibson

Subjects: Literature.

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