Analysis of Richard Wright’s “The Kitten”

In “The Kitten”, Richard Wright uses first person point of view, Man Vs. Man, Man Vs. Nature, and Man Vs. Self conflicts to characterize the titular feline as an innocent sacrifice and create the theme that love is a power struggle that innocents cannot survive. By making his younger alter ego the narrator and protagonist of this first-person “tail”, Wright allows the reader a more objective view of its “cat”-alayst and focal point and also adds an air of mystery to the beast. The author and reader are both befuddled by its origin and psychological needs: “We fed it some scraps of food and water, but it still meowed.” Richard’s brusque narration is doubly important in the murder scene. It not only creates a necessary detachment from the dying animal’s inner feelings because no one can truly comprehend death but also gives the reader an uncomfortable feeling of responsibility for the kitten’s death because he, too, might remember a time when he killed an innocent beast. The point of view makes Richard and the cat foils; the latter is truly innocent while the former is not, and this makes the kitten’s innocence even more palpable.

The kitten’s involvement in the story’s conflicts is largely accidental and further underscores its innocence. The brothers find it “while playing in the rear of our flat”, and Richard makes it a catalyst for the Man Vs. Man conflict with his father only because his “deep hate of [his father] urged [him] toward a literal acceptance of his word.” The kitten is the antagonist and eventual loser in the Man. Vs. Man and Man Vs. Nature conflict with Richard, but its only offenses are that it does not leave the boys’ house and meows too much. These actions are justified because it is an abused guiltless creature that has been abandoned before and simply wants love and acceptance from the boys who feed it. It cannot receive blame from the father because it does not understand his hatred of noise. It symbolizes Richard’s innocence, the antagonist of his Man Vs. Self conflict, and by killing it, Richard wins the battle with his father but loses his childhood.

Richard’s apparatus uses nails and ropes and achieves asphyxiation, like the cross, and the prayer the mother makes Richard say, “Dear God, our Father, forgive me, for I knew not what I was doing,” alludes to Jesus’s prayer as the soldiers nailed him to the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Though the members of Richard’s family love each other, they are imperfect beings who are always fighting for control and look out for themselves more than they look out for each other. The pure, innocent kitten cannot survive in this environment. Each member of Richard’s family hurts it for his own purposes: Richard for power over his father, his brother for moral superiority, his father for sleep, and his mother for psychological control over the children. Wright uses point of view, conflicts, and symbols to create the sharp characterization that delivers his powerful theme: love is a war in which everyone is wounded.

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