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Native Son: Metaphor Analysis

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The Rat

Book one opens with Bigger stalking, killing and disposing of a black rat. On the one hand, the rat represents Bigger as the predator that violently kills the helpless victims Mary and Bessie. On the other hand it represents American society which preys upon Bigger, entraps him and finally executes him.
After the murders, the police ruthlessly chase Bigger like a rat through the labyrinth of the Black Belt of South Side Chicago. They move through the burned out, abandoned and barely habitable buildings in a methodical manner, block by block, moving inward and inward until they trap him. Then, they lock him up and torture him by breaking him down psychologically until he signs a confession. They surround him by a mob that cries out against him in animal terms, "kill that black ape," and they finally execute him through electrocution. Simply, they dispose of him as Bigger once disposed of the rat. And, just as Bigger cried out "sonofabitch," when he captured the rat, so too do the police cry out "sonofabitch" when they ensnare Bigger.
Hubris is the word given to the excessive pride exhibited by the tragic hero in ancient Greek drama, which brings about his downfall. It is hubris that ultimately causes Bigger's death. Filled with excitement after committing the seemingly ultimate crime-killing and decapitating a white woman-Bigger puts aside his doubts and his instinctual desire to run and save himself and repeatedly returns to the scene of the crime, the Dalton house.
After he kills the Dalton girl, he buys cigarettes and beer for his buddies at the drug store with the murdered Mary's money which he took from her purse before stashing it in the garbage can. Then he shows off the roll of money to Bessie so she will consent to have sex with him after he snubbed her the evening before at Ernie's Kitchen Shack. Not content with the bank roll, he decides he is invincible and that he can gain a much larger sum of money if he pretends Mary has been kidnapped. Convinced he will succeed, he blames a man who attempted to become his friend. In a sense, he defies those in authority over him: Mr. Dalton, who lived "somewhere high up, distant like a god," and the preacher later on who comes to his cell.
Before his capture, Bigger continually disregards his own voice of reason which calls on him to flee. Indeed, time and time again, he dampens down his own warning system, even when the reporters find the basement filling up with smoke. And, even though lawyer Max attempts to explain poverty as an underlining cause of his crime: "Bigger's eyes lit with a bitter and feverish pride." Ultimately, it is his pride that traps Bigger like the rat at the opening of the novel.
In the ancient Greek drama, Oedipus the tragic hero is convinced he can overcome the Oracle's predication that he will unwittingly kill his father and marry his mother. He blinds himself in a fit of rage after the prophecy is fulfilled. Throughout most of Native Son, Bigger seems to see everyone else as blind: "he did not look at them; they were simply blind people, blind like his mother, his brother, his sister, Peggy, Britten, Jan, Mr. Dalton, and the sightless Mrs. Dalton" (329). The Daltons are blinded by their wealth which they make from the poor residing within Chicago's Black Belt and appease their guilt by helping African-Americans with charity contributions. And, certainly the courtroom mob is blinded by racism in America, his mother is blinded by religion, Britten by fear and Jan by ignorance. However, throughout most of the novel, Bigger remains unaware of his own blindness, and this prevents him from taking advantage of the opportunities that are offered him in the form of jobs that will support his family, and schooling that will enhance his life and increase his employment opportunities. In Book III, Bigger is finally forced to confront his own blindness, and just when he finally gains insight, his vision becomes dimmed once more before being put to death.


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