Re{\it Wright\/}ing Afro -American manhood: Negotiations of discursive space in the fiction of James Baldwin, Alice Walker, ohn Edgar Wideman, and Ernest Gaines

Philip George Auger, University of Rhode Island

Abstract

"ReWrighting Afro-American Manhood: Negotiations of Discursive Space in the Fiction of James Baldwin, Alice Walker, John Edgar Wideman and Ernest Gaines" is a study about the relationship between one's control of discourse and one's identity as a "man." Specific novels by the above Afro-American writers share an approach to "rewriting" negative social narratives of black manhood similar to that presented by Richard Wright in his 1940 novel, Native Son. Each of these writers approaches self-definition and, more specifically, the writing of oneself as a "man," as contingent upon the control of discourse--having some power over language--and thus having the power to define, position, and regulate. The novels treated all discuss and act as negotiations of "discursive space"--space for the production of positive narratives of manly identity. James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room (1956) is read against "domestic versions of containment" of 1950s America and in conjunction with Baldwin's essays responding to Wright's portrayal of Bigger Thomas. Giovanni's Room produces a "discursive space" (one "coming out" of "discursive closet") and presents Baldwin himself as a rewritten version of black manhood. In The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1972), Alice Walker's protagonist overcomes a sexist and violent "manly" identity by producing his own "discursive space" from which he can redefine his sense of manhood as something outside the dominant discourse of Southern white racist patriarchy. John Edgar Wideman's Philadelphia Fire (1990) portrays its protagonist as frustrated and silenced by the tempestuous forces of social disenfranchisement. The protagonist, a blocked writer who is unable to overcome "will-lessness," fails to construct a narrative which will redefine his "manhood" into one that is articulate and "whole." Finally, in A Lesson Before Dying (1993), Ernest Gaines "rewrites" the situation presented in Wright's Native Son of an inarticulate black man who is victimized and (discursively) imprisoned by white authority. Gaines' novel is a profound narrative about the shifting of discursive structures (religion, mythology, education) needed to achieve manhood. ^

Subject Area

Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Philip George Auger, "Re{\it Wright\/}ing Afro -American manhood: Negotiations of discursive space in the fiction of James Baldwin, Alice Walker, ohn Edgar Wideman, and Ernest Gaines" (1995). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9601832.
http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dissertations/AAI9601832

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