Richard Wright’s Native Son is about a young black man named Bigger who accidentally kills a white woman. Most of the story takes place as Bigger tries to evade capture.
The first part of the novel presents a symbolic situation that foreshadows much of the rest of the novel. Bigger’s family lives in a one-room apartment. The story’s first scene presents a rat that terrifies Bigger’s mother and sister. Bigger and his brother then pursue the rat, which Bigger finally kills with a skillet.
Bigger’s own fate is similar to that of the rat. As the rat repulses the occupants of the tenement, so too does Bigger repulse white society after they learn of his part in the death of the young white woman. Bigger, like the rat, struggles to escape from those who seek to do him harm. The rat finds himself trapped with no avenue of escape. Bigger encounters the same situation when he tries to escape the police.
The turning point for Bigger Thomas in Richard Wright's "Native Son" occurs when the family's apartment is invaded by a rat. It is a disgusting spectacle as Bigger attacks the pest with a frying pan: "...it reared once more and bared long yellow fangs, piping shrilly, belly quivering."
Bigger finishes the rat off by pounding in its head with a shoe. Bigger, in typical big brother fashion, scares his sister Vera with the disgusting remains. She faints, and his mother scolds him, "Bigger, sometimes I wonder why I birthed you." Bigger responds, "Maybe you oughtn't've."
The rat and his mother's response to him is the proverbial last straw for Bigger, whose poverty and reason for being alive are equally unknowable.