Throughout Son. Bigger Thomas, a young, depressed black man,

Throughout the history of writing, cats have symbolized craftiness, misfortune, deceit and death. Richard Wright creates no exception to this reputation in his novel Native Son. Bigger Thomas, a young, depressed black man, is placed in an awkward position when he is interviewed for a job with the Daltons, a wealthy white family. The Dalton’s unnamed white cat, gazes at Bigger, symbolizing initially white society. This gazing causes Bigger to feel angry and awkward so that is comes to assume a far more critical symbolic level on the night of Mary Dalton’s murder. His feelings lead him to express himself overtly in violence, specifically Bigger’s killing of Mary. In effect, the Dalton’s cat kills Mary.   The history of the feline is extensive and intriguing. Although we think of the black cat as always being the carrier of misfortune, the white cat has held a dark position as well. In England the white cat is notorious for its bad luck, and an older American superstition stated that a white cat at night indicates disaster. The Dalton’s cat abruptly has Bigger feeling uneasy,   Then he was stone-still; the white cat bounded past him and leaped upon the desk; it sat looking at him with large placid eyes and mewed plaintively … He hated himself at that moment. Why was he acting and feeling this way? He wanted to wave his hand and blot out the white man who was making him feel this. If not that, he wanted to blot himself out (47).   Through the cat, Wright foreshadows the murder of Mary. Bigger’s reaction to the cat, being stone-still, could be easily used to describe Bigger’s reaction when Mrs. Dalton walks in the room, and how he felt when he realized what he had done. The verb bound, used by Wright to describe the cat’s movement, can have a deeper meaning. Bound, the past tense of bind, could be used to describe Bigger’s situation after he kills Mary; he is forced and bound into a life of uncertainty and fear. The placid eyes, undisturbed by tumult or disorder, reflect the same way that the cat reacts in witnessing the murder of Mary. The deep green eyes looking into Bigger’s inner self judge his heart. The eyes are symbolic of Josephus’s singular description of Jesus Christ, telling of his piercing eyes able to look directly into one’s soul. They cause him to feel guilty and become that much more irritated. The cat’s plaintive meow, expressing sorrow and melancholy, is how the family will feel after realizing what has happened to their precious girl. One of the first cases of Bigger admitting to hating himself is stated in this quotation. These feelings can only lead to his later striking out. His wanting to wave his hand and blot out the white man can directly relate to the future murder. The “white man” can be considered the entire white race. His “waving of his hand” on the pillow over Mary’s face “blots” her out of the world. Eventually, the manslaughter will lead to Bigger’s wish coming true: “he wanted to blot himself out,” by means of the electric chair. Wright’s choosing of the color “white” cannot go unnoticed. During these times of segregation and relatively new idea of black liberation, the thick line separating white from blacks creates contempt and disdain among both races. Bigger sees white society in the cat, which only kindles his inner, fiery rage.   Bigger can keep his feelings locked inside for only a short amount of time. His emotions are soon released. His murdering of Mary was not an accident. It was his way of expressing himself. Had Bigger not had feelings of hate towards the Dalton’s he could have merely brought Mary into the house and told her parents the situation, with the greatest penalty being termination of his employment. After having enough of Mary and Jan’s irrelevant questions and political views, the narrator explains Bigger’s feelings which eventually lead to the killing:   He flushed warm with anger. Goddamn her soul to hell! … Why didn`t they leave him alone? He was not bothering them. Yes, anything could happen with people like these… At that moment he felt toward Mary and Jan a dumb, cold, inarticulate hate (66-67).   Bigger’s rage has started to become more apparent. He flushes with anger, and he feels like damning her soul to hell, perhaps the worst feelings one could have towards another. Bigger then gives the reader a conspicuous foreshadowing of the crime to come, “anything could happen with people like these.” Bigger has already begun to think of exterminating one of the white people, and Mary Dalton turns out to be the one in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bigger does not have a very openly expressive personality, causing him to keep many of his feelings to himself. His, “dumb, inarticulate hate,” is an example of this. Because he is relatively shy, he is enthusiastic when his feelings are brought into the open.   Bigger’s overt reactions to his inner feelings can only be called violent. He takes pride in his doings after the bloodshed is over with. Bigger’s violence and killing are a way for him to be someone, much different from how he felt before, “He Bigger felt he had no physical existence at all right then; he was something he hated” (67). There was nothing a part of Bigger’s life that he could call his own; his life had always been in the shadows of a group. He hated himself because of this, and the only way for him to escape it all was to give himself something, anything, to be known by. “Never had he had the chance to live out the consequences of his actions; never had his will been so free as in this night and day of fear and murder and flight” (239). When placed under pressure, many times one’s personality is revealed. Bigger is placed under great pressure when Mrs. Dalton walks into the room and “Frenzy dominated him Bigger” (85). He was in a state of violent mental agitation, and he chose to express himself with the pillow and Mary’s face. The murder brings the cat into play once again, “two green burning pools-pools of accusation and guilt-stared at him from a white blur … Should he catch the cat and kill it and put it in the furnace, too?”(91) This is a clear example of Bigger’s anger behind his actions. Only someone who is fraught with anger would actually think of killing the family cat to go along with the daughter. Bigger is human. However, he is not an insane murderer, and he feels guilty about what he has done. He also knows, on the other hand, that he can do nothing about it anymore.   In conclusion, the Dalton’s cat is the perpetrator of the liquidation. It makes Bigger feel exacerbated and uncomfortable. The cat is also symbolic of white society which only compounds Bigger’s distaste. It’s piercing eyes make Bigger feel guilty and irritated. He sees the relationship between the white color of the cat and the relationship it has with the white Dalton family, especially Mary. It is not an accident when Bigger takes these feelings and expresses them overtly and violently in his killing of Mary. In his intense situation, there is no way such an act could be considered a mishap, and Bigger even feels better about himself when it is done. All of this leads to beg the questions, How much of a role do our friendly little felines play in our day to day lives? Are they still living up to their reputation today? 


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