Edgar Allan Poe's “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and Richard Wright's Native Son
Chapter 1 situates Poe's “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in relation to eighteenth and nineteenth-century evolutionary and racial discourses in order to show how the hierarchy that whites invented in order to situate blacks as more closely related to simians both functioned to justify slavery and denied the monogenic history of humans and apes. While some recent criticism has insisted that Poe's murderous orangutan ought to be read primarily in racial terms, I argue that such analyses fail to grasp how nineteenth-century racist ideologies were in some measure fuelled by the perceived threat to human exceptionalism posed by nascent evolutionist discourses. The orangutan thus emerges as an allegory for the hybridization of all humans rather than as a transparent symbol of a black slave. Turning to Richard Wright's Native Son, which uncannily anticipates racialized readings of Poe by focusing on a young black man who is portrayed as an ape after he murders a young white girl, the chapter concludes that Wright performs an immanent critique of white racism by illuminating the duplicitous construction of Bigger as both an irrational animal and an accountable human subject.
Fordham Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.
If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.