Native Son | Study Guide

Richard Wright

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Native Son | Symbols



The rat at the start of the novel is a reflection of Bigger. Notably, it is a black rat, not gray or brown. The rat has ended up in the apartment by chance, but, now that it is here, it represents a danger to the humans around it. In a similar way, Bigger's life has been guided by circumstance, and he is becoming a danger to the people around him. The rat scrambles to escape, even biting at Bigger's leg. A description of the rat's belly heaving in fear creates some sympathy for the creature, even though it remains a danger that must be removed. Bigger's oppressive life may create some sympathy for him, but that does not make him less dangerous either. Ultimately, the rat is crushed by a force beyond its control—Bigger and the frying pan—in the same way Bigger is crushed by the force of white society.

Later in the book, the only eyewitness to Bigger's crimes is the Daltons' white cat, a rat's natural predator.


The night Mary's murder is discovered and Bigger escapes, a snowstorm hits Chicago. Snow, of course, is white, just like the people who are trying to find Bigger, and like those people the snow prevents Bigger's escape. Bessie and Bigger are forced to hide in an abandoned building because the snow prevents them from finding any kind of transportation out of the city. The following day the police cordon is in place and further impedes Bigger's escape. The cold and snow lead Bigger to a second apartment building, where he is captured; if there had been no snow, he might have remained outside and on the run. The snow encompasses everything in the city, just like white society.


Guns are a typical symbol of masculinity, power, and protection, and this appears to be the case with Bigger and his gun. Bigger hides the gun from his mother in the apartment, just as he hides the "manly" things he does, such as his crimes and his relationship with Bessie. Most telling, though, is his decision to take the gun with him on the interview with Mr. Dalton. Bigger thinks he feels safer with the gun, but it also provides him with a sense of power in a situation in which he has none. Later he uses the gun to dominate and intimidate Jan, again finding power in a situation when he feels powerless.


Mrs. Dalton is literally blind, which keeps her from seeing her daughter's antics or, ultimately, the danger Mary is in during her last moments. Mrs. Dalton is also symbolically blind to the suffering of the black people she claims to help and to the injustice that has built her husband's fortune. Furthermore, her blindness reflects the blindness all of white society has to the suffering of the black community and the ways they benefit from segregation. White society fails to see the abject poverty and racial injustice committed before its very eyes.

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