Paper Title

“If you had any manhood in you”: Intersections of Gender and Violence in Richard Wright’s Native Son and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Berenice”

Location

Room 223, DiGiorgio Campus Center (DiGs)

Start Date

April 2016

End Date

April 2016

Keywords

Gender, Violence, Masculinity, Poe, Wright

Abstract

Few scholars have noted the connection between Richard Wright and Edgar Allan Poe’s work. My paper, a comparative analysis of Wright’s Native Son and Poe’s “Berenice,” traces a lineage of male impotence expressed through acts of male-female violence. Both stories share the theme of an impotent central character who, tormented by the females that surround them (often unintentionally), takes out his frustration through male-female violence.

My goal in tracing this lineage is to explore how gender relations have evolved from early America to the mid-twentieth century: why is it that gruesomely violent acts continue to be performed against women? And why do these women refuse to stay “dead”? My reading examines how these texts explore changing gender roles: Poe’s text acts as a reaction to the male anxiety of transgressive women—Berenice herself becomes masculine, while Egaeus, the narrator, is rendered impotent and effeminate; Wright’s Bigger Thomas attempts to embody the established traditional white masculinity that oppresses him, and as such, asserts his physical dominance over females, both white and black, in an attempt to garner agency, essentially grasping for the dominion that Egaeus is able to assert.

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Apr 2nd, 10:30 AM Apr 2nd, 11:45 AM

“If you had any manhood in you”: Intersections of Gender and Violence in Richard Wright’s Native Son and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Berenice”

Room 223, DiGiorgio Campus Center (DiGs)

Few scholars have noted the connection between Richard Wright and Edgar Allan Poe’s work. My paper, a comparative analysis of Wright’s Native Son and Poe’s “Berenice,” traces a lineage of male impotence expressed through acts of male-female violence. Both stories share the theme of an impotent central character who, tormented by the females that surround them (often unintentionally), takes out his frustration through male-female violence.

My goal in tracing this lineage is to explore how gender relations have evolved from early America to the mid-twentieth century: why is it that gruesomely violent acts continue to be performed against women? And why do these women refuse to stay “dead”? My reading examines how these texts explore changing gender roles: Poe’s text acts as a reaction to the male anxiety of transgressive women—Berenice herself becomes masculine, while Egaeus, the narrator, is rendered impotent and effeminate; Wright’s Bigger Thomas attempts to embody the established traditional white masculinity that oppresses him, and as such, asserts his physical dominance over females, both white and black, in an attempt to garner agency, essentially grasping for the dominion that Egaeus is able to assert.