Incompatible generic and political judgments have divided critical discussion of Richard Wright’s Native Son for 70 years. Far from indicating the novel’s failure to cohere, this essay shows how the contest between naturalist and existential readings of Native Son emerged from the novel allegorizing midcentury liberalism’s equivocal concept of judgment. In its rhetoric of blindness, Native Son anticipates and thematizes antithetical “blind” judgments of Bigger. By treating this structuring rhetorical pattern as evidence of Wright’s critique of liberalism, we might move beyond the novel’s dichotomous reception and consider how Native Son performs the critical function associated with literary modernism.


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