Wright has divided the work into three parts: Fear, Flight and Fate. What is the central theme of each section and assess how effective the structure is in conveying this theme?

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

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In many ways, Wright constructs Bigger's narrative in the same way as the rat in the novel's exposition. Both creatures live in a “narrow circle, looking for a place to hide."  In such an idea, Wright is effective in dividing the novel into the three parts of fear, flight, and fate.  Like the rat, Bigger's life is one in which the "narrow circle," closes in, and makes the experiences of fear and flight almost futile necessities, where fate is the only possible conclusion.

The rat that scurries across the floor in the opening of the novel is scared. Wright constructs Bigger's world in "Fear" in a similar manner. Bigger is afraid of a world that will not validate his voice or give opportunity.  This fear manifests itself in anger about the lack of power that envelops Bigger:  "We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain't. They do things and we can't. It's just like livin' in jail.”  In how he carries himself with his friends and internally, Bigger is like the rat in living a life constructed out of fear of "the other."  The fear that lies at the heart of Bigger's being in the first section of the novel illuminates the theme of hopelessness that exists, a condition that makes Bigger very similar to the rat in how both have limited options and are terrified by it.

When Bigger has to engage in "flight," it is similar to the rat running scared across the floor.  Wright constructs the "Flight" section as one where Bigger must flee from the reality created for him and one that he created.  This simultaneous experience is one that causes agony within Bigger, helping to enhance the idea that he can never really flee from that which plagues him.  Wright's description of Bigger as hiding behind a wall and having to scurry into the open, like the rat, resonates in this section:

 "There was something he knew and something he felt; something the world gave him and something he himself had. . . . [N]ever in all his life, with this black skin of his, had the two worlds, thought and feeling, will and mind, aspiration and satisfaction, been together; never had he felt a sense of wholeness."  The lack of wholeness is what motivates his "flight."  

Bigger thinks that he can escape a condition that is both external and internal.  The "flight" for Bigger is one where he becomes the rat who runs across the floor, hoping to escape the skillet of a society that wishes to do nothing more than brandish the carcass of what it has killed.  The second section communicates the mental state of Bigger, one where "flight" in many ways is evident.

The condition of "fate" is where Bigger exists at the end.  Bigger has been caught and, like the rat, is going to be executed for all to see.  Bigger understands that the one advantage he has in his condition is that his struggle is over: "What I killed for must’ve been good!…I feel all right when I look at it that way." This revelation that the system which constructed someone like Bigger is what change.  A condition of being where Bigger, like the rat, must struggle so much for so very little is where "fate" becomes the final understanding.  It is a form of release as the skillet comes crashing down on him.  All three sections communicate the condition in which Bigger lives, one that parallels the opening scene of the rat's death.

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