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RACIST IDEOLOGY CLAIMS THAT INDIVIDUAL "BEHAVIOR is determined by stable inherited characters deriving from separate racial stocks and usually considered to stand to one another in relations of superiority and inferiority." (1) It is based on the racial precept referring to "an irrational group prejudice that assumes racial others to be inferior purely in terms of their racial membership biologically conceived." (2) Race stands out as the basic element of the discourse of difference that pervades interracial relations. The "images of 'others' depend not upon ethnic differences but upon particular types of hierarchical relationships." (3) Image-formation of the Other is determined by the power of the labelling group in relation to the labelled group. The labelling mentality defines the Other as the enemy, who is thus dehumanized by stereotyping. White stereotyping of blacks demonstrates the power of preconception over perception, leaving the white oppressor with no ability to "see," and the oppressed black with no chance to be "seen." Having limited power to control his/her own image, the black is turned into a victim of white stereotyping unless s/he controls his/her own image and defines a meaningful relationship to the white definitional framework.
In this context, Richard Wright's Native Son (1940) addresses the dire consequences of the whites' image-formation of blacks, as Wright analyzes the role of perception in interracial relations determined by the blinding function of the prevalent image-domination. Stereotypical images of blacks as beast and savage, heathen, victim, devil, servant and entertainer, and the "merry nigger," which have all been part of colonialist discourse, also exist in the white stereotyping of Bigger Thomas. The opening scene, Bigger's violent act of killing the rat, juxtaposes Bigger's anger with the rat's fear. In the final scenes of the novel when he is trapped by the police--the legitimized release of white anger on him--Bigger will become the rat whose final cry of defiance is to no avail. But unlike the rat at the beginning, Bigger is able to attack both physically and mentally at the end.
Born in Mississippi, the twenty-year-old Bigger lives with his widowed mother, his sister Vera and his brother Buddy in one of the squalid apartments on Chicago's South Side. Bigger's violence directed to the rat is in fact the projection of his anger and hatred toward his own social role and family, for the rat, as Michel Fabre suggests, "symbolizes the family's poverty as well as Bigger's fierce hatred and the enormous forces that confront him. Eventually, too, Bigger himself will be caught like a rat." (4) Bigger hates his own family, not because he is inhuman but because "he was powerless to help them" (5) in the face of suffering. He feels that his mother's forcing him into taking on the responsibility of the family "had tricked him into a cheap surrender" (p. 15). Just like the rat he is cornered in a position where he does not have any freedom to go beyond the limited scope of action. His frustration in his "cornered" orbit of life prevents him from moving beyond the color-line, and knowing that he has to take the job with the Daltons fills him with despair: "It maddened him to think that he did not have a wider choice of action" (p. 16). His sense of powerlessness takes on a different form when he hangs around the gang, for he has absolutely no sense of direction. When Gus and Bigger watch the planes, they know that white boys "get a chance to do everything" (p. 19). Realizing that white skin and money are the two prerequisites for fulfilling of their dreams, Bigger and Gus "play white," recreating the roles of the white power structure "typical of the American capitalist system: warfare, high finance, and political racism."(6) The recreation of the white power structure reinforces for Bigger, rather than releases, the gap between dream and reality: "We live here and they live …