How we cite our quotes:
"There he is!" the mother screamed again.
A huge black rat squealed and leaped at Bigger’s trouser-leg and snagged it in his teeth, hanging on.
"Goddamn!" Bigger whispered fiercely, whirling and kicking out his leg with all the strength of his body. The force of his movement shook the rat loose and it sailed through the air and struck a wall. Instantly, it rolled over and leaped again. Bigger dodged and the rat landed against a table leg. With clenched teeth, Bigger held the skillet; he was afraid to hurl it, fearing that he might miss. The rat squeaked and turned and ran in a narrow circle, looking for a place to hid; 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.
"Hit ‘im, Bigger!" Buddy shouted.
"Kill ‘im!" the woman screamed.
The rat’s belly pulsed with fear. Bigger advanced a step and the rat emitted a long thin song of defiance, its black beady eyes glittering, its tiny forefeet pawing the air restlessly. Bigger swung the skillet; it skidded over the floor, missing the rat, and clattered to a stop against a wall.
The rat leaped. Bigger sprang to one side. The rat stopped under a chair and let out a furious screak. Bigger moved slowly backward toward the door.
"Gimme that skillet, Buddy," he asked quietly, not taking his eyes from the rat.
Buddy extended his hand. Bigger caught the skillet and lifted it high in the air. The rat scuttled across the floor and stopped again at the box and searched quickly for the hole; then it reared once more and bared long yellow fangs, piping shrilly, belly quivering.
Bigger aimed and let the skillet fly with a heavy grunt. There was a shattering of wood as the box caved in. The woman screamed and hid her face in her hands. Bigger tiptoed forward and peered.
"I got ‘im," he muttered, his clenched teeth bared in a smile. "By God, I got ‘im."
He kicked the splintered box out of the way and the flat black body of the rat lay exposed, its two long yellow tusks showing distinctly. Bigger took a shoe and pounded the rat’s head, crushing it, cursing hysterically:
The woman on the bed sank to her knees and buried her face in the quilts and sobbed:
"Lord, Lord, have mercy. . . ."
"Aw, Mama," Vera whimpered, bending to her. "Don’t cry. It’s dead now."
The two brothers stood over the dead rat and spoke in tones of awed admiration.
"Gee, but he’s a big bastard."
"That sonofabitch could cut your throat."
"He’s over a foot long."
"How in hell do they get so big?"
"Eating garbage and anything else they can get."
"Look, Bigger, there’s a three-inch rip in your pantleg."
"Yeah; he was after me, all right."
"Please, Bigger, take ‘im out," Vera begged.
"Aw, don’t be so scary," Buddy said.
The woman on the bed continued to sob. Bigger took a piece of newspaper and gingerly lifted the rat by its tail and held it out at arm’s length. (1.39-1.66 )
The book opens with a scene of fear: man against the huge, slobbering, aggressive rat. Though the rat is just a rat, and Bigger manages to kill it, we instantly recognize how the fight with the rat symbolizes the family’s daily struggle to survive, despite overwhelming poverty and their lack of options/freedom. It is a potent demonstration of the fear that pervades their lives.
Save for the sound of Doc’s whistling up front, there was silence. Bigger watched Jack closely; he knew that the situation was one in which Jack’s word would be decisive. Bigger was afraid of Gus, because he knew that Gus would not hold out if Jack said yes. Gus stood at the table, toying with a cue stick, his eyes straying lazily over the billiard balls scattered about the table in the array of an unfinished game. Bigger rose and sent the balls whirling with a sweep of his hand, then looked straight at Gus as the gleaming balls kissed and rebounded from the rubber cushions, zig-zagging across the table’s green cloth. Even though Bigger had asked Gus to be with him in the robbery, the fear that Gus would really go made the muscles of Bigger’s stomach tighten; he was hot all over. He felt as if he wanted to sneeze and could not; only it was more nervous than wanting to sneeze. He grew hotter, tighter; his nerves were taut and his teeth were on edge. He felt that something would soon snap within him.
"Goddammit! Say something, somebody!"
"I’m in," Jack said again.
"I’ll go if the rest goes," G.H. said.
Gus stood without speaking and Bigger felt a curious sensation—half-sensual, half-thoughtful. He was divided and pulled against himself. He had handled things just right so far; all but Gus had consented. The way things stood now there were three against Gus, and that was just as he had wanted it to be. Bigger was afraid of robbing a white man and he knew that Gus was afraid, too. Blum’s store was small and Blum was alone, but Bigger could not think of robbing him without being flanked by his three pals. But even with his pals he was afraid. He had argued all of his pals but one into consenting to the robbery, and toward the lone man who held out he felt a hot hate and fear; he had transferred his fear of the whites to Gus. He hated Gus because he knew that Gus was afraid, as even he was; and he feared Gus because he felt that Gus would consent and then he would be compelled to go through with the robbery. Like a man about to shoot himself and dreading to shoot and yet knowing that he has to shoot and feeling it all at once and powerfully, he watched Gus and waited for him to say yes. But Gus did not speak. Bigger’s teeth clamped so tight that his jaws ached. He edged toward Gus, not looking at Gus, but feeling the presence of Gus over all his body, through him, in and out of him, and hating himself and Gus because he felt it. Then he could not stand it any longer. The hysterical tensity of his nerves urged him to speak, to free himself. He faced Gus, his eyes red with anger and fear, his fists clenched and held stiffly to his sides.
"You black sonofabitch," he said in a voice that did not vary in tone. "You scared ‘cause he’s a white man." (1.380-385)
Bigger acts out his fear by bullying others; when it doesn’t work, he grows angry, but the anger is just a way to get rid of his fear.
He listened awhile to her rubbing clothes on the metal washboard, then he gazed abstractedly into the street, thinking of how he had felt when he fought Gus in Doc’s poolroom. He was relieved and glad that in an hour he was going to see about that job at the Dalton place. He was disgusted with the gang; he knew that what had happened today put an end to his being with them in any more jobs. Like a man staring regretfully but hopelessly at the stump of a cut-off arm or leg, he knew that the fear of robbing a white man had had hold of him when he started that fight with Gus; but he knew it in a way that kept it from coming to his mind in the form of a hard and sharp idea. His confused emotions had made him feel instinctively that it would be better to fight Gus and spoil the plan of the robbery than to confront a white man with a gun. But he kept this knowledge of his fear thrust firmly down in him; his courage to live depended upon how successfully his fear was hidden from his consciousness. He had fought Gus because Gus was late; that was the reason his emotions accepted and he did not try to justify himself in his own eyes, or in the eyes of the gang. He did not think enough of them to feel that he had to; he did not consider himself as being responsible to them for what he did, even though they had been involved as deeply as he in the planned robbery. He felt that same way toward everyone. As long as he could remember, he had never been responsible to anyone. The moment a situation became so that it exacted something of him, he rebelled. That was they way he lived; he passed his days trying to defeat or gratify powerful impulses in a world he feared. (1.632)
The only way Bigger is able to make it through the day is by pretending not to be so scared.