Essays and Criticism
Use of Rain as a Metaphor
Wright’s short story ‘‘Bright and Morning Star’’ is filled with rain. From the first line, in which the protagonist Sue is said to be standing ‘‘six inches from the moist windowpane’’ as she wonders, ‘‘would it ever stop raining,’’ Wright uses rain as a metaphor of gloom and sorrow. Sue is worried about her son Johnny-Boy’s return. Although Wright does not show Sue crying, the moisture on the window so close to her face represents her tears, while her concern that the sun may never return addresses her apprehension that she has little hope that her life will ever improve. Thus, in the story’s first sentence, Wright has set the tone for the entire story, and this mood will prevail to the end, with the rain, as Sue feared, never ending.
Wright uses rain not only as a metaphor; he takes the image of rain and wraps it around other symbols such as in the opening paragraph when he mentions ‘‘a bright shaft of yellow that swung from the airplane beacon in far off Memphis.’’ It is because the night is so clustered in dark clouds and the sky is so saturated with rain that this yellow beacon is unmistakably visible. The shaft of light, in contrast to its practical status of signaling a safe harbor, cuts ‘‘through the rainy dark’’ like a ‘‘gleaming sword’’ above Sue’s head. The rain not only emphasizes this image, it lends its sheets of water as symbolic material through which the beam cuts. If the rain were not present, the light would be diffused, its edges feathered, and therefore the image would be softened. With the presence of the rain, Wright has created a dark background through which the light takes on the menacing form of a weapon. With the ‘‘gleaming sword’’ hanging over Sue, Wright exposes Sue’s fear as well as foreshadowing her death.
Sue is anxious about the well-being of her son. At first, readers might surmise that her anxiety is solely based on her concern that Johnny-Boy is caught in the rainstorm. He has ‘‘been trampin in this slop all day wid no decent shoes on his feet.’’ Readers might assume that Sue is merely worried that Johnny-Boy might catch a cold. However, this is not the level of apprehension that Wright wants, so he raises tension by enlarging on Sue’s thoughts as well as broadening the effects of the rainstorm. Not only is it raining, but it has been raining for too long. There is more rain than the ground can soak up. As Sue looks at the rain puddles that are forming in her yard, she observes that rain can be both good and bad. Rain can feed the earth and make plants flourish, but it can also ‘‘bog things down lika watah-soaked coffin.’’ With this reflection, Sue again brings the element of death into the story. Wright, through Sue, is portraying rain as an image of sorrow that can help create a strong character in people, just as the rain can feed the earth. Grief can help people to learn to appreciate the benefits of life, but too much heartache and anguish can eventually kill the spirit.
Rain pervades this initial setting, as even the inside of Sue’s house is saturated with moisture and images of water. There is the ‘‘filmy veil of sweat’’ on Sue’s forehead, the ‘‘throaty bubble’’ from a pot of boiling water, and the ‘‘pile of damp clothes’’ that Sue must iron. As she irons, she reminisces about both of her sons as ‘‘a gust of wind dashed rain against the window.’’ Sue’s life appears inundated with sorrow. As she unconsciously completes her chores, her hands follow ‘‘a lifelong ritual of toil’’ while her mind follows the suffering she has endured in the loss of her husband, in the suffering of her son Sug, and finally in her worries about Johnny-Boy’s late return. Sue’s trials in life have left her in a state of constant fear, which Wright further describes as an ‘‘intense brooding’’ that she held so closely to her ‘‘that she could feel their grain, like letting cold water run over her hand from a faucet on a winter morning.’’ Water also figures in Sue’s attempts to help support her sons. She washes clothes for white people. She mentions walking across a wet field with a load of wet clothes upon her head. This load did not weigh her down until the day that she found out that Sug had been taken to jail and beaten. Ever since, ‘‘things were becoming heavier. The tubs of water and the wet clothes were ‘‘becoming harder to lift.’’
The rain continues as Sue hears footsteps...
(The entire section is 1840 words.)