Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

White Rat’s narrative exposes him as a violent, abusive, alcoholic husband with mixed feelings about his racial identity. He acknowledges that he has always “been a hard man, kind of quick-tempered” but denies that he has changed since the marriage. Maggie claims that he started drinking after they were married and that the drinking makes him quick to anger, causing him to verbally abuse her. Afraid that the verbal abuse may lead to physical abuse, Maggie leaves him: “She say one of these times I might not jus’ say something. I might do something.” She takes Henry with her because she is afraid that White Rat might hurt him, a fear that is validated by White Rat’s statement that Henry “know what it mean when you hit him on the ass when he do something wrong.” Her return home may, in fact, have been prompted by her desire to protect her son.

Although he claims that he has been sober for two months, White Rat is a heavy drinker. After he leaves Maggie, he goes to a white bar, where he passes for white and tells the bartender two versions of his marriage to Maggie. In the first, he tells the bartender about a black priest who is punished for renouncing his vows of celibacy; his punishment is having a clubfooted son. In the second, he describes a white priest who also breaks his vows, but his punishment is that he has a “nigger” for a child. In the second version, White Rat can also be seen as the child who is the punishment for...

(The entire section is 487 words.)