Explain the symbols of snow, white cat, and black rats in Native Son.

Quick answer:

In Native Son, snow symbolizes the dominant White society that overwhelms and oppresses Bigger. The white cat represents the randomness and injustice of White privilege, while the black rat is a symbol of Bigger’s sense of futility and entrapment.

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In Native Son, both snow and the white cat are associated with the dominant, White society. The snow stands for the entirety of White society, an inescapable element that oppresses Bigger as it completely surrounds him. The white cat represents the random, capricious quality of White privilege as it intrudes into his life when he least expects it. The black rat, in contrast, stands for Bigger himself, showing the futility of his efforts to fight his way out of oppression.

The snows appears as a storm that slowly builds into a blizzard, which ultimately foils Bigger’s efforts to escape. The storm has covered the ground by the time he jumps out of the window once Mary’s bones were located. The snow does not merely impede him from fleeing, it completely covers him and gets inside his eyes and mouth. The all-enveloping whiteness of the snow equals the total control of White society.

The Daltons’ white cat, which jumps onto Bigger, illustrates how arbitrary and unexpected White privilege can be. Bigger resents the cat for its unpredictability and tenaciousness, which make it impossible for him to control.

Similar to the rat that dies early in the novel, Bigger is trapped by social restrictions and poverty. Despite their constant, often violent struggles, ultimately, neither the animal nor the man will survive. Bigger is trapped inside a “narrow circle,” trying to find a place to hide, because he knows he cannot escape.

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