Themes and Meanings
A Rat’s Mass is a play about the negative aspects of the black experience, about prejudice and hatred and rejection, about being an outsider with no hope of ever belonging, and about the failure of traditional institutions to offer any solutions to the problem. Brother Rat and Sister Rat represent the black population, Rosemary the white society that subjugates and oppresses, and the Procession of holy figures the uncaring, impersonal church, which offers neither succor nor forgiveness.
For Brother and Sister Rat, the pain of living black in a white world is realized in their adoration of Rosemary, the white child who is all that they can never be—“a descendant of the Pope and Julius Caesar and the Virgin Mary.” Rosemary is the source of their feelings of rejection (“Colored people are not Catholics, are they?”), the instigator of their sin (“Rosemary said if I loved her I would do what she said”), and the reminder of their guilt (“I will never atone you”). Clad in her white Communion dress, Rosemary is both the unattainable ideal and the avenging angel.