The legal invention and institutionalization of “terrorism” coincided with Richard Wright’s invention of Bigger Thomas, perhaps the most terrifying figure in twentieth-century American literature. This convergence was not merely an accident of history. By framing Native Son within two discourses of “native” terror—the extralegal, community-endorsed racial violence against African Americans in the post-Reconstruction South, and the radical violence of the so-called Red Menaces—this essay demonstrates not only how these terrorisms converge in Bigger, but also how Wright’s protagonist represents a distinctly modern figure for terror. In the courtroom drama with which the novel concludes, Native Son folds back on itself to interpret the manufacture of terrorism; here, Wright charts the basic rhetorical coordinates of an “America under attack,” before raising the specter of lynching as the inevitable conclusion to the terror narrative.


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pp. 873-895
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