When Sarah Davis sees her father's body for the first time in "A Sudden Trip Home in the Spring," she has to deal with a lot of emotions. But she also has to handle a rat scurrying around under his coffin.
Okay, none of us wants to think about vermin near a corpse, but here we are. And Sarah is alone—she has to deal with this critter on her own. Best choice? Have a staring contest with it. She forces herself to "stare the rat down" (Trip.2.49), a mantra that she takes with her when she has to confront unpleasant stuff—like racism—when she returns to Cresselton.
The actual rat in this scenario is a disgusting creature that has invaded a sacred space—and that also threatens the body of her father.
Sarah carries the meaning of that intrusive rat into her own life, where it helps her to define and contain the behavior of people around her who threaten her identity and her personal power.