Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

English, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Darrell Moore

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Laura Harris

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Derik Smith

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2024 Malcolm Oliver II


Black Americans, Native Son, Perception, Protest Literature, Rhetoric, Richard Wright

Subject Categories

Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority


This dissertation is an exploration into Richard Wright’s rhetorical framing of the black American experience to further understand the impact and influence of language on black Americans within the progression of society. If we revisit 20 th century black American protest literature with a critical view through the lens of Perceivable Rhetoric, my original contribution to the field, we can further understand the messaging and implications within the genre that help us understand why the 21 st century black American experience mirrors much of what was written during the 20 th century. With respect to the aforementioned, Native Son, the primary artifact for this project, is the foundation for an investigation into the mitigating factors Wright identified as elements within society responsible for creating an oppressive state. To fulfill this line of inquiry, the dissertation begins with a personal anecdote reiterating the need for protest literature to represent the voice of the oppressed, and then transitions into an analysis of the genre to better understand its place within American literature, how it conceptualizes interpretations of society, and its ultimate function as an agent of change. As we break ground into protest literature and introduce black American authors to showcase the complexities within and outside of the field, Richard Wright and Native Son is brought forth in a reporting of who Wright was as a person and author, the intricacies and importance of Native Son as a representation of black American thought and culture, and subsequent deep-dive into the novel through a three-scene close read. After the initial close read, the three scenes are revisited to unpack the rhetorical strategies within protest literature to uncover the hidden meanings and take us behind the veil of understanding. Within this moment, the claims, determinations, and critical reception of Native Son are examined to ascertain the intentions of Wright and pair them with the reception of his work through a rhetorical analysis. In conclusion, the dissertation reiterates the need for a more thorough appreciation of language, in all forms, as we continually see, and experience, the transformational nature of it, and its ability to condition our beliefs and actions in a (sub)conscious manner.