- Richard Wright's Native Son
There has been a growing number of edited collections on Richard Wright scholarship in recent decades. Yoshinobu Hakutani's Critical Essays on Richard Wright (1982), Keneth Kinnamon's New Essays on Native Son (1990), Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and K. A. Appiah's Richard Wright: Critical Perspectives Past and Present (1993), Arnold Rampersad's Richard Wright: A Collection of Critical Essays (1994), and Robert J. Butler's The Critical Response to Richard Wright (1995), to mention a few, have made significant contributions to our understanding of Wright's works. Richard Wright's Native Son emerges as one such book, which engages a real dialogue not only between the articles in the book and the readers, but between the articles which seem to speak back to each other in an animated set of discussions about Native Son (1940). This seems to fit into the Dialogue Series Editor Michael J. Meyer's aim to bring together established and new voices in the academic community.
All of the articles in the collection, written by eleven contributors from a wide range of universities in the United States and Spain, have appeared in the volume for the first time. The collection comprises five parts, each focusing on different aspects of Native Son. In the first part, Caleb Corkery's and Philip Goldstein's articles interpret the reception of the novel under a new light. On the one hand, Corkery [End Page 521] argues that Wright's image in the mind of American readers in 1940 explains the great impact of the novel on American culture, because the book enabled Wright to connect especially with liberal white American readers through a commonly held commitment to liberal ideologies. On the other, Goldstein's article contends how the radical politics of Max does not coincide with Bigger's sense of liberation, for this is closely related to Wright's transformation from a communist to a Black Power supporter as well as to the emergence of black studies and the fading influences of naturalism and modernism with changing times.
In the second part, "Gendered Textualities," articles by Yvonne Robinson Jones and Carol E. Henderson highlight different views on Wright's representation of gender. Jones claims that Wright's sexism can be detected clearly in the novel, representing stereotyped black and white female characters, as he, in turn, stereotypes white males as potential racists, while also creating emasculated African American male characters, who use their agency to transcend their oppressive status. Henderson, on the other hand, focuses on the global implications of the representations of black women in the novel, which she argues paved the way for African American women writers ranging from Zora Neale Hurston to Gwendolyn Brooks and Ann Petry to revise Wright's images of black women, and hence search for new ways of representing black female subjectivity in the urban setting.
In the third part, "Spatial Dynamics," Babacar M'Baye and Herman Beavers deal with the local and global spaces implicated in the novel. M'Baye places the novel alongside Wright's Black Power and The Color Curtain, locating all of them in international contexts, as these texts constitute a forceful critique of oppression in both the United States and the third world. According to M'Baye, Wright deconstructs the consequences of Western oppression on formerly colonized peoples in the United States and Africa. M'Baye also argues that Max's discourse stands for Wright's interpretation of how the social and cultural institutions embody the foundational ideology of slavery in the modern world. Beavers, on the other hand, claims that Wright embraced Edgar Allan Poe's use of vertical symbolism in his short fiction in the process of conceptualizing Bigger Thomas. Beavers focuses on Bigger as a figuration of surplus meaning, as he interprets the novel as a work that reveals thermodynamic principles.
The fourth part, "A Polyphony of Genres," includes articles by Ana María Fraile-Marcos, Heather Duerre Humann, and Carme Manuel, who discuss how different genres take new shapes in the novel. Fraile...