After Wednesday’s presentations, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear in Native Son and how it affects the characters’ actions. As Julian described in his presentation, there is fear on both sides of the conflict in the novel, a Black fear and a white fear. This fear prevents either side from seeing the other’s humanity and results in excessive aggression and hysteria in attempting to overcome that fear. Looking at two different examples, when Bigger kills the rat in the beginning of the novel and the search party’s efforts to capture Bigger, we can see how these characters’ fear determines their actions.
In the opening scene, Bigger tries to kill the rat while his family members are all screaming and panicking around him. What is important to note is that the rat in this scenario is probably much more afraid of the humans than they are of the rat. This is rightly so; there are multiple humans who are much larger and have much more power over the fate of the rat than he has over them. We see this clearly in the fact that Bigger is able to kill the rat in just a matter of minutes. Even though the humans have several factors working in their favor, they cannot deal calmly and rationally with their fear and instead exert all of their energy into trying to kill the rat. This parallels the relationship between the search party and Bigger when he’s on the run. Although Bigger is clearly capable of killing individuals, the search party as a whole unit is much more likely to overpower Bigger and ultimately bring him harm. Therefore, Bigger’s fear of the search party is likely greater than their fear of him. The party’s numbers and resources work in their favor to allow them to capture Bigger, and this is what brings about his death by capital punishment. In both cases, the more powerful group’s fear causes them to act with excessive force in order to accomplish their end goals, directly resulting in the deaths of the less powerful individuals.