Twice in the novel Bigger says he has metaphorically killed many times before he actually killed Mary.  Can you help me understand what the author is getting at here?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Bigger's embrace of violence is a critical part to his characterization.  While he kills Mary and sets in motion the eventual tragedy that is Bigger's life, his allusions to killing are significant.  The opening of the novel demonstrates this.  For Bigger, killing the rat is important.  The rat is an intruder, a creature that is not welcome. It feeds off of the garbage around it and skitters across the floor, in haste and without much in way of direction for it is hunted. Bigger's engaging of killing the rat is deliberate and asserts some level of power in a world where he really has none.  Bigger has engaged in an actual murder of the rat.  Like Bigger, the rat is devoid of a home and is demonized as "the other." Like Bigger, the rat has no refuge from the fate that awaits him.  Killing is Bigger's way of exerting power over something else.  In his act of killing, Bigger exhibits the tendencies that the world of racism and economic challenge holds over him.  He embodies that against which he struggles.   It is in this understanding where killing occupies importance, reflective of what he has done and what is being done to him.

When Bigger's mom tells him to kill the rat, she does so by invoking his masculinity.  For Bigger, masculinity is associated with killing.  If Bigger fails to kill the rat, he is less than a man.  In the pool hall, Bigger feels power because he is able to terrorize his friends to a point where they are scared.  In this respect, Bigger has metaphorically killed before.  He views killing as a way to enhance his identity.  Bigger associates "being a man" with killing and violence. In newsreels, Bigger is attracted to Hitler and the oppressive displays of the Japanese, again confirming how killing defines masculine identity.  From a metaphorical standpoint, Bigger has engaged in the act of violence and killing.  In his essay, "How Bigger Was Born," Wright speaks of how the condition of oppression and forcible denial of voice translated to African- American men of the time period in which Bigger lived:

I've even heard Negroes say that maybe Hitler and Mussolini are all right; that maybe Stalin is all right. They did not say this out of any intellectual comprehension of the forces at work in the world, but because they felt that these men "did things," a phrase which is charged with more meaning than the mere words imply. 

Bigger can be seen as having metaphorically killed before because he associates violence with identity.  Wright is trying to articulate how consciousness for Bigger includes violence and killing.  In order to be a man in such a context, Wright draws out Bigger as seeing violence and killing as a part of consciousness.  While he has not outwardly killed, Bigger recognizes the presence of violence and killing in his own being.  They are reflections and logical extensions of objectification, and of the reality in which he lives.  In the context in which Bigger lives, respect and a sense of masculine identity emerges with being violent, being perceived as a “bad nigger.”  This is the condition in which Bigger is forced to live.  The metaphorical presence of violence and killing are  intrinsic to this predicament. 

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