Native Son.Ed. Arnold Rampersand. New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : Library of America The Library of America (LoA) is a nonprofit publisher of classic American literature. Overview and history
Founded in 1979 with seed money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation, the LoA has published more than 150 volumes by a wide range , 1991. 925 pp. $35.00.
Richard Wright's fictional works as published recently in the Library of America edition do, as the editor, Arnold Rampersad Arnold Rampersad (born 13 November 1941)is an acclaimed biographer and literary critic. The first volume his Life Of Langston Hughes was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He was born in Trinidad. , hoped, promote new lines of inquiry, at least for Native Son: the question of Wright's (or any writer's) authority over his text, the question of gender approaches to a literary work, and the question of the nature of fiction.
Rampersad has valorized this new version partly on grounds that it makes Native Son "available as [Wright] had wanted [it] to be read" and allows us "to hear a great American writer speak with his own voice" (New York Times Book Review, 29 Dec 1991). Jerry Ward agrees: "The unexpurgated unexpurgated
(of a piece of writing) not censored by having allegedly offensive passages removed
Adj. 1. unexpurgated - not having material deleted; "volumes of the best plays, unexpurgated"- Havelock Ellis texts of this novel and other works bring us closer to what Wright meant" (Richard Wright Noun 1. Richard Wright - United States writer whose work is concerned with the oppression of African Americans (1908-1960)
Wright Newsletter, Fall 1991). But these assessments are problematical, for they are at odds with au courant Cou`rant´
a. 1. (Her.) Represented as running; - said of a beast borne in a coat of arms.
n. 1. A piece of music in triple time; also, a lively dance; a coranto.
2. deconstructionist feminist criticism, which manifestly claims the death of authors' and critics' expropriational rights to texts and their meanings. A novel's meaning is as much as anything a matter of what its writer did not say, of subtext sub·text
1. The implicit meaning or theme of a literary text.
2. The underlying personality of a dramatic character as implied or indicated by a script or text and interpreted by an actor in performance. , hence, Wright's patriarchal authority over the gender meanings of the text must be abrogated. Even Wright's statement that all is Bigger's viewpoint, not his, no longer has authority.
Ambiguity, the speech and reticence of symbols, in literature has long been recognized as the playing field of literary study, and the "intentional fallacy intentional fallacy
Intentionalism regarded as a fallacy. " (today, phallacy?) is exposed and discounted. It is safe to say that the new edition will not make much difference to feminist criticism, yet because the passages restored to Native Son are sexual, this new edition invites gender analysis.
So far, the comments about it have indicated that the restorations also restore Bigger's manhood, that they create, as Keneth Kinnamon, apparently with straight face, phrases it in his introduction to New Essays on Native Son, a "harder" Bigger, less congenial to sentimental bankers' daughters than even the 1940 model. The changes resulting in the version published in 1940, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Rampersad, "almost emasculated e·mas·cu·late
tr.v. e·mas·cu·lat·ed, e·mas·cu·lat·ing, e·mas·cu·lates
1. To castrate.
2. To deprive of strength or vigor; weaken.
Deprived of virility, strength, or vigor. Bigger," "nullify nul·li·fy
tr.v. nul·li·fied, nul·li·fy·ing, nul·li·fies
1. To make null; invalidate.
2. To counteract the force or effectiveness of. Bigger's sexual drive," "make him almost asexual asexual /asex·u·al/ (a-sek´shoo-al) having no sex; not sexual; not pertaining to sex.
1. Having no evident sex or sex organs; sexless.
2. " and therefore "less human, less alive and almost incomprehensible." The restorations provide Bigger with "vibrant sexuality."
One obvious problem with this presentation of what Wright meant, based on what he wrote, is that it premises also the curious view that prior to this "unexpurgated" new edition, to quote Jerry Ward again, " . . . a crucial element of characterization was missing in the . . . Native Son we had been reading for fifty years"; that the "removal of explicit reference to Bigger's sexuality" had been wholesale. In an age of explicit, "steamy" sexual-imagery overkill overkill Vox populi An excess of anything , perhaps it is possible to miss in the 1940 edition the references to Bigger's sexuality in passages such as
. . . he leaned over [Mary], excited,
looking at her face in the dim light,
not wanting to take his hands from
her breasts . . . . he tightened his fingers
on her breasts, kissing her again, feeling
her move toward him. He was aware
only of her body now, his lips trembled
. . . . and
[Bessie] was undressing. He got up
and began to undress . . . . He went to
her, folding her in his arms . . . . he felt
her as a fallow fallow
a pale cream, light fawn, or pale yellow coat color in dogs. field beneath him . . .
and he floated on a wild tide, rising
and sinking, with the ebb and flow the alternate ebb and flood of the tide; often used figuratively.
See also: Ebb of
her blood . . . . Another problem, at least for feminist readers, is that this view of Bigger's supposedly cut-and-now-restored testicles Testicles
Also called testes or gonads, they are part of the male reproductive system, and are located beneath the penis in the scrotum.
Mentioned in: Testicular Cancer, Testicular Surgery, Vasectomy encourages an admirative connection between male sexual activity in any form and the meaning of masculinity--a connection not unrelated to an erstwhile stereotype known as the black superstud. Wright's dealings with it in such fictions as "Big Boy Leaves Home," "The Man Who Killed a Shadow," The Outsider, and The Long Dream, as well as explicit references to it in Native Son, seem to indicate he was not admirative of it.
Furthermore, as gender criticism (i.e., feminist) is now theorized, and insofar in·so·far
To such an extent.
Adv. 1. insofar - to the degree or extent that; "insofar as it can be ascertained, the horse lung is comparable to that of man"; "so far as it is reasonably practical he should practice as in literary scholarship a theoretic starting point is today considered de rigueur, a gender approach to this new edition reveals conflict not only between Rampersad's view of Bigger's "restored" sexuality as "vibrant" and what established gender study practices might reveal, but a problem within such gender criticism itself. A non-negotiable principle of current gender criticism applied to literature is that men reify reify - To regard (something abstract) as a material thing. women, turning them into mere objects of phallic phallic /phal·lic/ (-ik) pertaining to or resembling a phallus.
1. Of, relating to, or resembling a phallus.
2. domination, prestige prizes in macho competitions. One of the major cuts restored in the new edition of Native Son deals with Bigger and one of his friends masturbating in a movie theater (masturbation being more offensive to bankers' daughters, it would seem from Kinnamon's comments, than mere decapitation Decapitation
See also Headlessness.
(1755–1793) queen of France beheaded by revolutionists. [Fr. Hist.: NCE, 1697]
lulled to sleep and beheaded by Hermes. [Gk. Myth. and rape). A gender study of this episode suggests not that Bigger's sexuality is particularly "vibrant," or that the passage re-masculates him, but that he is androgynous an·drog·y·nous
1. Biology Having both female and male characteristics; hermaphroditic.
2. Being neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine, as in dress, appearance, or behavior. . After all, one part of Bigger does dominate, in a sexual competition with another male, another part; he is not described as being sexually aroused prior to the act; his male member is simply seized and forced into compliance:
"I'll bet you ain't even hard yet,"
"I'm getting hard." In addition, Bigger refers to his penis as a thing, a "nightstick." Such an appellation ap·pel·la·tion
1. A name, title, or designation.
2. A protected name under which a wine may be sold, indicating that the grapes used are of a specific kind from a specific district.
3. The act of naming. complicates the genderal reading because it both reduces the penis to an impersonal thing, as men are said to do to women, and yet associates it with an instrument of domination, which power women are said not to have.
Other components of the scene thicken thick·en
tr. & intr.v. thick·ened, thick·en·ing, thick·ens
1. To make or become thick or thicker: Thicken the sauce with cornstarch. The crowd thickened near the doorway.
2. this genderal interpretation. Bigger--or maybe it's Jack (the names yet!)--thinks that a passing woman movie patron "saw us." The rejoinder The answer made by a defendant in the second stage of Common-Law Pleading that rebuts or denies the assertions made in the plaintiff's replication.
The rejoinder allows a defendant to present a more responsive and specific statement challenging the allegations made is that
"If she saw it she'd faint."
"Or grab it, maybe." In the first part of the episode, Bigger's "absent" hand can be seen acting as the male agent, seizing upon the equally "absent" hapless male member, working its will upon it, regardless. But, circularly, the "male"--first the male member, then the hand--is altered into its opposite gender, then back again: The hand, usually acting as female organ, here masculinely "feminizes" the male organ and then is explicitly associated with the female. Obviously, the "male" does not come off (excuse the expression) as what feminist gender theory posits. It is the female that is empowered here, dominating the phallus phallus /phal·lus/ (fal´us) pl. phal´li
2. a representation of the penis.
3. the primordium of the penis or clitoris that develops from the genital tubercle. that is conventionally, theoretically taken as the sign of male dominance.
At least one feminist-based study of the 1940 Native Son, contrary to intent, reveals this pattern. Alan Frances Modern Fiction Studies, Autumn 1988) contends that the rat which Bigger kills in the novel's initial scene is a symbolic penis that he then dangles m front of his sister, securing for himself a much enjoyed phallic dominance. Ignored in this analysis is the considerable beating he has given the rat, reducing it to a bloody, lifeless pulp by clobbering it with a frying pan and crushing its head with his foot. Considering the attack on this phallicized head, his own member seems treated no differently from the way he treats Mary and Bessie. Feminist criticisms of the 1940 edition have also argued that Bigger's killings of Mary and Bessie are disguised attempts to kill off the feminine, the internalized castrating female, in himself (or in Wright). But the restored masturbation scene sets up a pattern of attempts at killing off the masculine instead, not an uncastration of Bigger that restores him to either superstudery or oppressive maleness.
Perhaps the new edition and the editorial commentary on it so far can then lead to a new genderal look at Native Son, if "gender" also means "men's studies." A men's studies approach to Native Son has not yet occurred, in part because men's studies has been feminist-based and hence accepting not only of feminist theories of men but also of the feminist axiom that all approaches to literature, among other things, have until recently been men's studies. Rampersad's remarks that the new edition invites new study of Bigger in terms of his sexuality, as Wright saw it, with the additional implications that Wright thus intended us to see Bigger as a man, fully masculine, raise the intriguing question of just how we are to know this masculinity. That is, most gender studies of men start with an a priori a priori
In epistemology, knowledge that is independent of all particular experiences, as opposed to a posteriori (or empirical) knowledge, which derives from experience. theory of masculinity, by which images are identified as "masculine." But what theory of masculinity can be applied to Native Son to help us see what Wright meant by masculinity if we don't already have Wright's theory?
In "How |Bigger' Was Born," the authority of which must be accepted if we accept the authority of the fictional Native Son, Wright indicates that Bigger and his story are not just "masculine." The novel is "a scheme of images and symbols" representative of a sub-group, "a vast, muddied pool of human life," men and women whose personalities and the actions expressing them are warped by what a civilization with "no spiritual sustenance . . . whose metaphysical meanings have vanished" has imposed on them or made available to them as expressive instrumentalities. The passages restored to this new edition quantitatively add to images of Bigger's sexuality, but they would have to have the same meaning he implied to all the behaviors of a large segment of the world's population symbolized in Bigger--skewed, not really vibrant, the behavior of humans "who lived by violence, through extreme action and sensation, through drowning daily in a perpetual nervous agitation," by which "they felt their lives had meaning." Clearly this is a condition Wright mourns, not advocates as truly human, masculine sexuality.
In terms of current gender approaches, such a view places Wright at least on the edges of the radical profeminist camp, which sees "masculinity as a distinctive social role that is continually imposed on a naturally benign being in order to maintain a patriarchal social order" (Ken Clatterbaugh, Contemporary Perspectives on Masculinity). But Wright never imaged an ordered, satisfying fulfillment of male sexuality, although implicitly he seems to have had such a notion and came closest to working it out in The Long Dream.
Closely related, equally complicated questions this new edition raises concern Wright's view of fiction. Could Wright's own gender theory be derived for Native Son, a fiction? In "How |Bigger' Was Born" and American Hunger, he told us his efforts as a writer were to create in words something never seen before--in Native Son, the illusion of Bigger's "elusive core of being, that individual data consciousness which in every man and woman is like no other." Theories are generic; fictional creatures (and for Wright, apparently, actual individuals) are unique.
Also, the new edition has Bigger at the movies seeing a newsreel depicting Mary and Jan cavorting on a Florida beach. Kinnamon would have Wright in the restored passages "presenting Bigger as a typically highly sexed nineteen-year-old [he tells Mr. Dalton he's twenty]. . . titillated tit·il·late
v. tit·il·lat·ed, tit·il·lat·ing, tit·il·lates
1. To stimulate by touching lightly; tickle.
2. To excite (another) pleasurably, superficially or erotically. by a newsreel," which explains Bigger's "otherwise implausible speculation" in the 1940 edition that "maybe [Mr. Dalton] had a daughter who was a hot kind of girl." Of course, the newsreel scene m the newly restored edition has the implausible detail of the commentator's giving Mary's specific street address and also has Bigger thinking "maybe Mary Dalton was a hot kind of girl," a decidedly pointless and repetitious rep·e·ti·tious
Filled with repetition, especially needless or tedious repetition.
repe·ti "maybe" on Bigger's part, given what the commentator has explicitly said about "|the naughty rich'" and if the newsreel is indeed all that sexually arousing (Bigger has just masturbated).
What this new edition's restorations make possible is a reconstruction that does not redundantly emphasize anything as mundane as Bigger's sex drive. It is significant that Wright did not simply cut the newsreel image, as he did the masturbation scene, at the request of Book-of-the-Month Club editors. He evidently wanted to retain the film image more than he did the onanism onanism /onan·ism/ (o´nah-nizm)
1. coitus interruptus.
1. See coitus interruptus.
2. Masturbation. . In spite of his conscious commitment to naturalistic realism, he carefully replaced the factual newsreel with not only a fictional movie, but one whose hokieness is more obvious to the reader than to Bigger. The movie is an image more clearly than the newsreel, not a reflection of any reality, although Bigger accepts it as a window into the unknown Dalton world. It is he in the 1940 edition--not an anonymous voice as in this new version--that makes connections between flickering shadows, Mary Dalton, and the kind of woman she is. Mary becomes, by this change, more a hallucination hallucination, false perception characterized by a distortion of real sensory stimuli. Common types of hallucination are auditory, i.e., hearing voices or noises and visual, i.e., seeing people that are not actually present. than flesh when she first enters the story. Wright seems to have been trying to say something--perhaps, ironically, not totally complimentary--about art, fiction, the human imagination's participation in the reality it responds to; or about Bigger's naivete na·ive·té or na·ïve·té
1. The state or quality of being inexperienced or unsophisticated, especially in being artless, credulous, or uncritical.
2. An artless, credulous, or uncritical statement or act. in the "reading" of images as reality. Bigger's obviously a deconstuctionist twenty-some years ahead of his time, a mutated banker's daughter appropriating images into his own perspective, as is revealed after he has actually met Mary, in his "remote" musings about "how different this rich girl was from the one he had seen in the movies. This woman he had watched on the screen had not seemed dangerous and his mind had been able to do with her as it liked." This is precisely an action on Wright's own images he was determined to forestall.
The new edition of Native Son does raise interesting, perhaps unanswerable, questions about the author's intended meaning, the problems of genderal interpretations, and the physics of fiction. In "How |Bigger' Was Born," Wright admitted his inability to explain everything about his novel, and suggested another way in which it might be seen in fictional genderal terms:
Always there is something just
beyond the tip of the tongue The tip of the tongue (TOT) phenomenon is an instance of knowing something that cannot immediately be recalled. TOT is a near-universal experience with memory recollection involving difficulty retrieving a well-known word or familiar name. that
could explain it all . . . . an imaginative
novel represents the merging of two
extremes . . . at once something
private and public by its very nature
and texture . . . . As I wrote . . . one
image, symbol, character, scene,
mood, feeling evoked its opposite,
its parallel, its complementary, and
its ironic counterpoint.