by Richard Wright
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
In the opening scene of the novel, Bigger must confront a rat in his family’s one-room apartment. He overcomes the rat by throwing a shoe at it and killing it. Some critics argued that the rat is a symbol of Bigger himself – that Bigger invades civilization like the rat invades his family’s home and is killed. This scene also potentially foreshadows Bigger’s confrontation with virulent forces of racism in American society; though he doesn’t kill those forces in American society itself, he does manage to kill them in himself and, we hope, in the novel’s reader. In another perspective, the rat is a product of his environment and is powerless when faced with an opponent that has more weapons at his disposal. The rat is not inherently bad, but a rat stuck in a city has few options. Likewise, Bigger is a product of his environment and, when confronted by white society, he is destroyed.