Fake Emotions: Impediments to Bigger Thomas's Ontological Transcendence in Richard Wright's Native Son
Behin, B., Mehrvand, A. and Keramatfar, N.
Pertanika Journal of Social Science and Humanities, Volume 24, Issue 4, December 2016
Keywords: Jean-Paul Sartre, Transcendence, Richard Wright, Fake Emotions, Bigger Thomas, Native Son
Published on: 22 Nov 2016
This article examines Richard Wright's (1940) Native Son, as one of the most effective works in modern African American literary history, in the light of Jean Paul Sartre's conception of transcendence. This article draws upon Sartre's existential views on the concept of transcendence in The Transcendence of the Ego (1936/1960) and The Emotions: Outline of a Theory (1939/1948). The concept means that, through the power of imagination, one can envisage some projects for oneself so as to leave one's present state behind or to transcend it. In Being and Nothingness (1943/1950), Sartre clarified that consciousness was transcendence. This study focuses on two groups of critics opposing on the possibility of transcendence in Bigger Thomas, the protagonist of the novel, asserting that the first group ceased to acknowledge Bigger's transcendence, whereas the second group highlighted his transcendence, yet, ceased to delve into Bigger's psychological plight and the function of emotions, either enabling or paralysing Bigger before his execution. In our view, Bigger does have the capability to transcend as a distinguished human being. However, we argue that Bigger's emotions, inauthentic and fake, hinder his path to transcendence. Therefore, this study restricts itself to the selected pieces from the novel before Mary's accidental murder and her subsequent decapitation by Bigger, to stress the role of the protagonist's emotions and their consequential effects on his transcendence as an existentially distinguished individual. Our findings suggest that it is Bigger's resort to fake emotions that bereaves him of transcendence as an existentially autonomous being.