Symbols…Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Mrs. Dalton’s Blindness

Mrs. Dalton’s blindness plays a crucial role in the circumstances of Bigger’s murder of Mary, as it gives Bigger the escape route of smothering Mary to keep her from revealing his presence in her bedroom. On a symbolic level, this set of circumstances serves as a metaphor for the vicious circle of racism in American society: Mrs. Dalton’s inability to see Bigger causes him to turn to violence, just as the inability of whites to see blacks as individuals causes blacks to live their lives in fear and hatred. Mrs. Dalton’s blindness represents the inability of white Americans as a whole to see black Americans as anything other than the embodiment of their media-enforced -stereotypes. Wright echoes Mrs. Dalton’s literal blindness throughout the novel in his descriptions of other characters who are figuratively blind for one reason or another. Indeed, Bigger later realizes that, in a sense, even he has been blind, unable to see whites as individuals rather than a single oppressive mass.

The Cross

The Christian cross traditionally symbolizes compassion and sacrifice for a greater good, and indeed Reverend Hammond intends as much when he gives Bigger a cross while he is in jail. Bigger even begins to think of himself as Christlike, imagining that he is sacrificing himself in order to wash away the shame of being black, just as Christ died to wash away the world’s sins. Later, however, after Bigger sees the image of a burning cross, he can only associate crosses with the hatred and racism that have crippled him throughout his life. As such, the cross in Native Son comes to symbolize the opposite of what it usually signifies in a Christian context.


A light snow begins falling at the start of Book Two after Bigger kills Mary and burns her body in the furnace, and this snow eventually turns into a blizzard that aids in Bigger’s capture. This could been seen as a symbol of white society enveloping and overwhelming Bigger’s world.
Throughout the novel, Bigger thinks of whites not as individuals, but as a looming white mountain or a great natural force pressing down upon him. The blizzard is raging as Bigger jumps from his window to escape after Mary’s bones are found in the furnace. When he falls to the ground, the snow fills his mouth, ears, and eyes—all his senses are overwhelmed with a literal whiteness, representing the metaphorical “whiteness” he feels has been controlling him his whole life. Bigger tries to flee, but the snow has sealed off all avenues of escape, allowing the white police to surround and capture him..

The Pigeon Flying Away

Rule of thumb: when anyone in literature (or, hey, in real life) mentions that they’d like to be a bird, there’s an approximately 99% chance that they’re wishing for a little more freedom.

In Book One: Fear, Bigger and Gus “play white,” demonstrating how trapped they feel in their own lives and how much comparative freedom white people have. When they finish, the young men watch as a pigeon lands on the cable car tracks and struts around, then flies away as a street car approaches:

Then their eyes were riveted; a slate-colored pigeon swooped down to the middle of the steel car tracks and began strutting to and fro with ruffled feathers, its fat neck bobbing with regal pride. A street car rumbled forward and the pigeon rose swiftly through the air on wings stretched so taut and sheer that Bigger could see the gold of the sun through their translucent tips. He tilted his head and watched the slate-colored bird flap and wheel out of sight over the edge of a high roof.

“Now, if I could only do that,” Bigger said. (1.292)

The pigeon represents freedom, the ability to go where he wants when he wants, instead of being stuck where he is.

Regents English Prep Online


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