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Bestial TracesRace, Sexuality, Animality$
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Christopher Peterson

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780823245208

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823245208.001.0001

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Aping Apes

Aping Apes

Edgar Allan Poe's “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and Richard Wright's Native Son

Chapter:
(p.22) 1 Aping Apes
Source:
Bestial Traces
Author(s):

Christopher Peterson

Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823245208.003.0002

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.

Keywords:   Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Wright, Animality, Racism

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