The Native's Nightmares as Enabling Discourse in Richard Wright's Native Son

  • H Yitah


Several scholars have drawn attention to the existence, in Native Son, of more than one discourse. However, such critics have focused mainly on Richard Wright's use of heteroglossia in the novel as evidenced by the different voices of Bigger Thomas, Max and the third person narrator, the state attorney's arguments in the court room, and the rhetoric of the press. Yet Wright's striving "to make words disappear" leaving us conscious only of our response to his art, suggests that his language operates not only at the linguistic but also at the paralinguistic level. In this paper, I explore Wright's use of nightmare as a technique for creating a field of discourse that is enabling for Bigger in his quest for self definition. I argue that the nightmares that begin each of the three sections of the novel constitute a "private "field of discourse for Bigger, separate from the "objectifying" discourse of the establishment that occupies most of the narrative, and that these "internal" and "external" discourses also contextualise Bigger's perception of himself as subject or object.

"Native Son is a work of assault rather
than withdrawal; the author yields
himself in part to a vision of nightmare"
(Irving Howe: "Black Boys and Native


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2458-746X
print ISSN: 0855-1502