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Animal Symbolism in Native Son by Richard Wright

Two rats and a cat are used as symbols in Richard Wright’s Native Son. The rats, one found in an alley and the other in Bigger’s apartment, symbolize Bigger. Mrs. Dalton’s white cat represents white society, which often takes the form of a singular character. “Parallels are drawn between these animals and the characters they represent at key moments during the novel” (Kinnamon 118). These parallels help the reader identify with Bigger and understand why he acts the way he does. The animal imagery in Native Son explains some of Bigger’s behavior and generates sympathy for Bigger and fear of whites.

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Bigger’s first encounter with a rat foreshadows what will happen to him later on in the story and explains his reaction to danger. ?The rat automatically becomes a natural enemy and an invader the moment it is discovered in Bigger’s apartment? (Hakutani 41). Bigger’s family is instantly afraid of the rat and demands its destruction. Buddy blocks the entrance to the rat’s home, leaving the rat trapped in the room with no escape. Finally, the rat becomes frenzied and resorts to violence to protect itself from Bigger and Buddy. “The rat squeaked and turned and ran in a narrow circle, looking for a place to hide; it leaped again past Bigger and scurried on dry rasping feet to one side of the box and then to the other, searching for the hole. Then it turned and reared upon its hind legs” (Wright 4). Initially, the rat is shown as helpless, with no intent to hurt Bigger. The rat’s fight for its survival becomes so desperate, however, that it leaps at Bigger’s pant leg in an attempt to protect itself.

Bigger, like the rat, finds himself trapped and frenzied whe…

…Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985.

Fishburn, Katherine. Richard Wright’s Hero: The Faces of a Rebel-Victim. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1977.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. and K. A. Appiah, eds. Richard Wright: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. New York: Amistd, 1993.

Hakutani, Yoshinobu, ed. Critical Essays on Richard Wright. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982.

Joyce, Joyce Ann. Richard Wright’s Art of Tragedy. Iowa City: U of Iowa Press, 1986.

Kinnamon, Keneth, ed. New Essays on Native Son. New York: Cambridge UP, 1990.

Macksey, Richard and Frank E. Moorer, eds. Richard Wright: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984.

Rampersad, Arnold, ed. Richard Wright: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995.

Wright, Richard. Native Son. New York: Harper 1989.

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