The novel Native Son was published by Richard Wright
in 1940. The book represents the tragedy of Bigger Thomas,
a black boy raised in the Chicago slums during the great
depression. Wright uses symbolism extensively in the novel.

There is even symbolic meaning behind the titles of each of
the three parts of the novel. It is symbolism that allows

Wright to explain the entire novel in the first few pages.

Even though symbols are widely used in the novel, there are
only three that are very important. The three most
important symbols are the black rat, blindness, and the

One of the major symbols in Native Son is the black
rat in the first chapter of the novel. The rat symbolizes
the fate, feelings, and actions of the main character. The
parallels between the rat and Bigger Thomas are
unmistakable. The black rat is seen as an invader and is
killed. The same eventually happens to Bigger later in the
novel (Lee 50).

Robert Lee argues that the black rat is symbolic of
several things. According to Lee, one symbolic function of
the black rat is that it sets up a motif that resonates
throughout the novel. The rat points forward to the figure

Bigger himself will become, the part-real, part-fantasy
denizen of a grotesque counter Darwinian world in which
human life-his own, Maryís, Bessieís-seems to evolve
backward into rodent predation and death. Whether in
pursuit or the pursued, Bigger becomes damned either way,
just as he victimizes others while doubling as both his own
and societyís victim. These inner meanings of the novel
also lie behind Wrightís three-part partition of fear,
flight, and fate (Lee 51).

Secondly, the rat is symbolic of the terrified
helplessness of the Thomas family and Biggerís response to
it: "The ratís belly pulsed with fear. Bigger advanced a
step and the rat emitted a long thin song of defiance."

Bigger crushes the rat utterly and, in triumphant bravado,
flaunts the bloody corpse in his sisterís face, enjoying
her terror. Lee recognizes the significance of this
episode of fear, rage, and violent action. He states that
the entire novel is an extension, with the roles inverted
of this chilling metaphor (Lee 58).

Finally, the killing of the rat is symbolic of

Biggerís attempt to assert himself as someone important.

Lee argues that Bigger actually hated his family. He hated
them because he knew that they were suffering and that he
was powerless to help or protect them. The killing of the
rat represents, perhaps, Biggerís one chance to protect his
mother and younger siblings as the patriarch of the Thomas
family (Lee 68).

Edward Margolies views blindness, which affects
everyone throughout the novel, as the most important
symbol. He believes that Wright uses blindness to
illustrate the relationship between the races. His
symbolic use of blindness illustrates how blind whites are
to the humanity and existence of black people. Whites
prefer to think of blacks in easily stereotypical images-in
images of brute beast, or happy minstrel. They are
incapable of viewing blacks as having sensitivity and
intelligence. Even well meaning people like the Daltons
are blind to the suffering of blacks. The Daltons lavish
millions of dollars on black colleges and welfare
organizations-while at the same time they continue to
support a rigid caste system that is responsible for black
degradation in the first place (Margolies 45).

To support his belief, Margolies illustrates how this
symbolic blindness affects all of the characters. Bigger
is blind to the realities of black life as well as to the
humanity of whites. Bigger vaguely discerns the white
enemy as white tides, icy white walls, and looming white
mountains. He is therefore unable to accept Janís offer of
friendship, because he blindly regards all whites as
symbols of oppression. Mary, Jan, and Max are just as
blind to the humanity of blacks as the others-even though
they presumably want to enlist blacks as equals in their
cause. For Mary and Jan, Bigger is an abstraction- a
symbol of exploitation rather than someone whose feelings
they have ever tried to understand. Mrs. Daltonís
blindness is symbolic of the blindness of the white liberal
philanthropic community (Margolies 50).

Margolies believes that in all cases but Mrs. Daltons,
blindness is psychosomatic. Like others, however, Mrs.

Dalton has a spiritual handicap as well as a physical one.

She and her husband, as Max points out, cannot see the
malevolent condition, which they serve and perpetuate.

Similarly, Mary and Jan cannot see the emptiness of their
charity. At different points in the novel Bessie is
blinded by tears and fright, while Bigger is blinded by
snow, light and rage. In the presence of Jan and Max he
feels transparent and invisible. At the end of the novel

Max groped for his hat