Selected Article


Ethnic Modernism: Reading Richard Wright’s Native Son


Soma Das


Literary modernism as stated by Rita Keresztesi , "grew out of a prejudiced, racially biased often xenophobic historical context that necessitated a politically conservative and narrow definition of modernism in America". Modernism emphasizes neutrality of culture and in the context of American modernism it is important to question this claim and focus on the importance of the contribution of African American writers writing in what is taken to be the period of American literary high modernism. From the early decades of the 20th century there was a marked change in the racial,ethnic and cultural makeup of the nation and with this change literary modernism also changed in its form and context. The active participation of African Americans and other minority groups , as immigrants and ethnics , advanced the course of literary modernism in the United States of America . Sacvan Bercovicth in The Cambridge History of American Literature: Prose Writing 1910 – 1950 refers to Jean Toomer’s Cane ( 1923 ) as “the high point of achievement of American Ethnic modernism" .It is pointed out that this African American Text is modernist in its concern with “psychological scrutinity, bohemian self searching , increasing ethnic expression , and engagement with new ideologies" .The contention of this paper is to highlight further development of American ethnic modernism in a seminal African American novel : Richard Wright’s Native Son. Apart from psychological scrutiny and ethnic expression, Richard Wright’s novel is an engagement with certain important issues such as generational tensions, urban space and alienation which are important ethnic thematic concerns as well as issues underlying modernist emphasis.