Rape is an ugly word. A word that incites fear and hatred. A word that (rightly) makes me want to lock my door, bury my head in the sand and avoid even thinking of it. Imagine what those who have suffered this awful reality must feel. In a way, I’m glad that it brings out such strong feelings, for these strong feelings might help bring about justice.
Bigger and Betsy are talking about the murder, and Bessie mentions that everyone will think Bigger raped his victim. Even though he did not rape her in one sense, Bigger admits to it in another:
Yes, he had raped her. Every time he felt as he had felt that night, he raped. But rape was not what one did to women. Rape was what one felt when one’s back was against a wall and one had to strike out, whether one wanted to or not, to keep the pack from killing one. He committed rape every time he looked into a white face. He was a long, taut piece of rubber which a thousand hands had stretched to the snapping point, and when he snapped it was rape. But it was rape when he cried out in hate deep in his heart as he felt the strain of living day by day. That, too, was rape.
I know that Wright’s intent is partly to shock his audience into response, so using the word “rape” in this context is shocking enough to get us thinking about the injustice done to Bigger and others like him. But part of me resents this. Part of me feels like this is an attempt to avoid consequences and also to unfairly use my emotions to get me on Bigger’s side. Hatred, anger, fear, murder, resentment, and revenge are NOT rape. What do you think? Do you like Wright’s choice of words here, or is he going a step too far?