Making the Wright Connection

An Online Community for the Study of Richard Wright

Facing Death: The Fear of Death vs. the Death of Fear

Posted on March 30, 2011 | No Comments

Abdul JanMohamedSaturday, April 30, 2011 at 11:00 a.m. CST
Please join us for a FREE Virtual Seminar taught by Abdul JanMohamed, Professor of English at the University of California (Berkeley)

Click here to join the virtual seminar.

Abstract: In my work on Native Son, and on Wright’s work in general, I have focused on the effects of the threat of death (lynching in Jim Crow society) as well as of the ensuing fear of death on the formation of individual psyche and subjectivity. And I have argued that all of Wright’s fiction is a systematic examination of the subject formed by the threat of death; it is an examination of how the threat/fear of death permeates every nook and cranny of the individual psyche. The virtual seminar, focusing in particular on Book Three of Native Son, will examine how Bigger Thomas faces his fear of death and finally overcomes it. Traditional literary criticism sees Book Three as the weakest part of Native Son; I will argue that it is the strongest and most powerful. My approach to this book and Wright’s work in general is based on the notion that the slave’s fear of death plays a crucial role in his/her enslavement and that conversely the overcoming of that fear can open the road to freedom.

It may be useful to keep in mind several statements by Wright, from Black Boy, regarding his view of lynching. By the age of eleven, he tells us, he “had already become as conditioned to [the] existence [of white racist society] as though I had been the victim of a thousand lynchings” (BB, 72). And when an older brother of a friend is lynched, the horror permeates the “deepest layers” of Wright’s consciousness and compels him “to give my entire imagination over to it, an act which blocked the spring of thought and feeling in me, creating a sense of distance between me and the world in which I lived” (BB, 165, emphasis added).

About Abdul JanMohamed:
Dr. Abdul JanMohamed is a Professor of English at the University of California: Berkeley. He is a leading scholar in the area of Minority Discourse. Dr. JanMohamed has published several important articles about Richard Wright, including, “Richard Wright as a Specular Border Intellectual: The Politics of Identification in Black Power,” “Negating the Negation as a Form of Affirmation in Minority Discourse: The Construction of Richard Wright as Subject.” He is also the author of The Death-Bound-Subject: Richard Wright’s Archeology of Death. More on Dr. JanMohamed.

Readings for the seminar


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