The sense of fatality that pervades Native Son interested me the most in these last two books. Like in an ancient Greek tragedy, this novel is defined by the looming sense of a determined doom. The first oracle of this doom, for Bigger, is his mother; for the reader, the foreshadowing of the rat scene; and for the white characters, the irony of the furnace.
Bigger tells his mom to “ ‘stop prophesying’ ” after she warns him that someday, he will, overwhelmed by regret, “ ‘set down and cry’ ”(9). Here Bigger does not offer a correction or attempt to see a different path. He simply asks his mom to stop espousing his fate. It is also interesting to note that the first direct depiction of Bigger’s fate mentions a weak, ‘hysteric’ regret. It seems, then, that Bigger is doomed to a fate, not of death, but of emasculation. Perhaps, Wright is attempting to say that there is no difference between death and emasculation? In a patriarchal white supremacy that deals in power, an independent and virile masculinity does provide a certain distance from one’s own pain. This interaction, combined with the line only a page earlier, where Bigger’s mother says “ ‘sometimes I wonder why I birthed you,’ ” connects the female presence in the book with the main character’s awareness of his damned fate (8).
Similarly, the incident with the rat triggers an awareness of a fatalistic tone for the reader. The rat is heard before it is seen as “a light tapping in the thinly plastered walls of the room” (4). Before it is identified, the rat is a nefarious disturbance that looms in the very structure where one is supposed to feel the safest: one’s home. The first drama of the book, where Bigger kills this intrusive rat that has infiltrated their home and then uses its death to terrify Vera, embraces a sense of invasion and fatalism head on, then proceeds to make a mockery of it.
The sense of an ever present doom also extends beyond the novel’s Black characters, though. It resides in the twisted irony surrounding the investigation of Mary’s death, too. The disposal site of Mary’s body is a character in the investigation. As the investigation flounders, “the crimson luster of the fire gleamed on the white men’s faces” (196). In this image, as well as in the smoke scene, the irony makes a joke out of the white men’s search. The literal doom of Mary’s tragic demise burns onto their faces. It is an imminent and tragic discovery, but it is also a twisted joke. No character in Wright’s world seems exempt from the brutality of his fatalism.