Violence and Black Masculinity in Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940)
Keywords:Masculinity, Richard Wright, Bigger Thomas, Double consciousness
Throughout African American history, black men have struggled to re-construct their identities through a constant renegotiation with the negative stereotypes created around black manhood. Confronted with marginalization, discrimination, and racial oppression, black men persistently fought against a number of psychosocial challenges to articulate their experiences and reshape their subjectivity. Authors like James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Chester Himes have not only depicted the devastating African American male experience that was a product of the Eurocentric notions of black masculinity, they have also attempted to redefine African American men’s identities that deviate from the dominant narratives. Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), in particular, explores this process of the construction of black masculinity through a rereading of black-white power relationship. Drawing on W. E. B. Du Bois’s notion of “double consciousness” (1903) and bell hooks’s reflection on the repercussions of an “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” (2004), this article explores Wright’s construction of black male identity in the novel. Critically analyzing the character of the protagonist, Bigger Thomas, within the above framework, the paper argues that an interaction with oppressive systems of power shapes black men’s double consciousness, which gives rise to violence as a source of reclaiming their masculinity. While previous research has focused on Bigger’s identity formation through his relationship with both black and white communities, this paper adds to the scholarship by analyzing the role of violence as a product of oppression that shapes his masculinity.
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