March 29, 2023
12:00 PM - 01:00 PM
Campus Events Memorial Union
Memorial Union - Cottonwood Room

Animality and Black Masculinity in Richard Wright's Native Son -

This paper examines the fraught intersection of animality and Black masculinity in Richard Wright's Native Son. This 1940 novel features Wright's most controversial protagonist, Bigger Thomas, who ironically comes to embody the racist trope of the Black male beast when he unintentionally kills a white woman to avoid a false accusation of rape. Some critics have read Bigger as a dangerous comfirmation of this sterotype, while others have interpreted the character more generously as an indictment of white America's culpability for Black male dehumanization and violence. Yet Wright's depiction of the Black/animal nexus in the figure of Bigger is more nuanced than either reading suggests. I re-examine the intersection of animality with Black masculinity in Native Son using theories of the human developed by Black feminists like Sylvia Wynter, Benedicte Boisseron, and Aph Ko. Wright's novel, I argue, reveals the co-constitutive nature of Black masculinity and animality in the white imagination, indicating that race, gender, and species must be deconstructed simultaneously in order to dismantle the white supremacist and capitalist power structures out of which Bigger was born.

Lindsey Ibanez