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...
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...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?
Appiah, K. A. and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds. Richard Wright: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. New York: Amistad Press, 1993.
Kinnamon, Keneth. "How Native Son Was Born." Appiah 110-127.
Stepto, Robert. "Literacy and Ascent: Black Boy." Appiah, 226-254.
Tanner, Laura E. "Uncovering the Magical Disguise of Language: The Narrative Presence in Richard Wright's Native Son." Appiah 132-146.
Wright, Richard. Native Son. Ed. Ellen Wright. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 1993.
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