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III. America in Black and White

Monsters and Heroes: The Ironies of Black Subjectivity in Stephen Crane’s The Monster and Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground

Joseph L. Lewis
Translated by Pierrick Gaumé
p. 161-172


Cette analyse associe le concept d’africanismes américains élaboré par Toni Morrison à celui d’ironie discursive proposé par Clyde Taylor pour examiner comment la présence symbolique du monstre apparaît dans le roman court de Stephen Crane intitulé The Monster et comment il réapparait sous une forme différente dans celui de Richard Wright intitulé The Man Who Lived Underground. Crane et Wright ont le projet commun de proposer une construction des concepts de race, d'identité et de représentation à travers le personnage du monstre, mais leurs visions s'opposent en raison de leurs origines culturelles. Je pose alors la question suivante : dans quelle mesure les origines culturelles peuvent-elles orienter la réception des images littéraires et influencer la manière de présenter ces images dans la littérature américaine ? J'observe la tendance des écrivains noirs américains à critiquer et parodier les définitions de race, d'identité et de représentation des écrivains blancs américains en étudiant précisément cette interaction, par une lecture croisée des textes de Crane et de Wright. Le choix de sensibilités littéraires noire et blanche reflète également la diversité et le brassage culturels qui ont marqué et enrichi ce pays. Ce qui m'y intéresse, ce sont d'ailleurs les dichotomies raciales et la manière dont "L'Afrique" et le "peuple africain" vivant aux Etats-Unis sont associés à ces connotations raciales.

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1This paper connects Toni Morrison’s concept of American Africanisms to Clyde Taylor’s concept of discursive irony to examine how the symbolic presence of the monster appears in Stephen Crane’s novella, The Monster (1898) and reappears with similarity and difference in Richard Wright’s novella, The Man Who Lived Underground (1942). Both Crane and Wright construct a concept of race, identity and representation via the monster. The difference between the former as opposed to the latter is a matter of cultural background. Varying representations of the American Africanist presence leads one to question how cultural background influences the reception and presentation of literary images in American literature. This analysis begins to probe that question with a pop cultural example from George A. Romero’s film, Night of the Living Dead (1968).

  • 2 I agree with Fredrik Barth’s theoretical observation of ethnicity not as thing but a social process (...)

2Night of the Living Dead depicts an apocalyptic vision of the disintegration of American cultural values by exploring the dreadful possibility of the dead rising from their graves to feed on the living. A critique of the socio-historical backdrop of this film is plausible considering that the film was released during a time of multiple social uprisings including the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. six months earlier. The socio-historical backdrop of the film is all the more intriguing because Ben, the film’s protagonist, is black.2 Even though Ben’s character is essential to the supporting characters’ temporary survival, he is shot in the head by Vince, a member of the town militia. During the entire closing credits, the members of the militia drag Ben’s carcass on the ground. Seemingly Ben’s body is juxtaposed to the zombies that terrorize the white characters. Toni Morrison’s analysis in Playing in the Dark illuminates the irony of Ben’s representation. Morrison describes how images of whiteness in American literature are often presented in conjunction with subjugated images of blackness. Morrison goes further to assert that the American Africanist presence functions as a "denotative and connotative blackness that African peoples have come to signify as well as the entire range of views, assumptions, readings, and misreadings that accompany Eurocentric learning about these people" (Morrison 6-7). According to Morrison’s description, American Africanisms are employed in American fiction to signify the way in which the "non-white persona" is constructed in American culture through the mode of literature. In the case of Ben, the black man becomes a hero who is subjugated at the end of the film, ironically correlating him to the monstrous figures that trigger fear in the supporting white characters.

  • 3 Clyde Taylor, The Mask of Art: Breaking the Aesthetic Contract-Film and Literature (Bloomington and (...)

3The ironic situational representation of Ben in Night of the Living Dead can also be connected to Clyde Taylor’s description of discursive irony in his analysis, The Mask of Art. If Morrison’s description of American Africanism locates the interrelationship between images of blackness and whiteness in American literature, then Clyde Taylor’s concept of discursive irony describes the nuanced differences within these discursive interactions. Taylor’s concept of discursive irony contains six categories: Despotic irony, Ethiopicist irony, Radical Ethiopicism, Cyclopism, Aesopianism and Achebianism.3 The former three categories are echoed by the ideologically empowered, while the latter three categories are echoed by the ideologically suppressed. The characterization of Ben is best described as a form of Ethiopicist irony. Taylor highlights reoccurring features of Ethiopicist storytelling as:

the self-reflexive portraiture of the Other; the instrumentalization of sympathy; the reluctant acknowledgement of subjectivity in the outsider; the proffering of ‘solutions’ via the dominant success formula; the attraction to exotic character types; the recognition of worth among the downpressed through the gaze of a majority figure. (Taylor 199)

4The first, third and last of the features listed above are the most prevalent ones in Romero’s film. For instance, once the militia arrives at the house and kills the remaining zombies, a sense of control is established. The actions of the militia are further valorized after they kill Ben and drag his mutilated body on the ground. Thus, Ben’s heroism is not based on his survival; his heroism is based on his ability to keep the white characters alive.

5Like Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Stephen Crane’s novella, The Monster presents a form of Ethiopicism through the ironic representation of Henry Johnson. Crane explores a world of black subjectivity by casting Johnson as both a hero and a monster. In the case of Johnson, all of Taylor’s features are prevalent. The most salient, nevertheless, is the self-reflexive portraiture of the other who describes Johnson’s monstrous transformation. In particular, examples of self-reflexive portraiture of the other are prevalent when Dr. Trescott’s choice to let Johnson live is followed by the ramifications of his decision. Johnson is constructed as a hero and, at the same time, he is associated with the source of horror that terrorizes his community.

  • 4 Joseph D. Andriano, Immortal Monster: The Mythological Evolution of the Fantastic Beast in Modern F (...)

6Henry Johnson is a black coachman employed by the Trescott family. One night, the Trescott home catches fire. Without hesitation, Johnson runs into the house to save Dr. Trescott’s son, Jimmie. During Jimmie’s dramatic rescue, a jar of acid falls onto Johnson’s face. As a result of Johnson’s disfiguration, he symbolically becomes the town monster. Johnson’s transformation into the monster is both metaphorical and metonymic.4 In the case of the former, Johnson is a human who takes on bestial qualities as a result of the chemical spill. In the case of the latter, Johnson’s bestial qualities are metonymically projected onto him prior to his horrific transformation.

7After Johnson is horribly disfigured, Dr. Trescott has to choose to let him live or die. When Judge Hagenthorpe approaches the Trescott home, he finds Dr. Trescott at Johnson’s bedside. The narrator observes,

The bandages on the Negro’s head allowed only one thing to appear-an eye, which unwinkingly stared at the judge. The latter spoke to Trescott on the condition of the patient. Afterward he evidently had something further to say, but he seemed to be kept from it by the scrutiny of the unwinking eye, at which he furtively glanced from time to time. (Crane 205)

  • 5 Lee Clark Mitchell, "Face, Race and Disfiguration in Stephen Crane’s The Monster," Critical Inquiry(...)

8Critics such as Lee Clark Mitchell recognize that in this scene, Johnson’s un-winking eye symbolizes his voice.5 Accordingly, there are three levels of discourse taking place here. First, the reader learns of Hagenthorpe’s opinion that Johnson should be allowed to die. Secondly, the reader learns that Trescott wants to keep Johnson alive. The third and final level of discourse is more complex. For instance, through Johnson’s silence, he is able to express his subjectivity. In one sense, Johnson does not obtain a speaking voice to tell the gentlemen whether he chooses to live or die. In another sense, Johnson exercises the most powerful level of discourse in this scene, creating in Dr. Trescott a sense of guilt by staring through his bandages. For Dr. Trescott, the un-winking eye casts judgment upon him. Because the eye is the only evidence of Johnson maintaining a sense of life, Dr. Trescott is able to vindicate himself by saving what is left of Johnson’s life in exchange for his son’s life. Consequently, Dr. Trescott’s choice to let Johnson live creates a climate of fear in the town of Whilomville. This fear prompts Dr. Trescott's decision to move Johnson out of his house and into Alek Williams’ house in Watermelon Alley, the black section of Whilomville.

9Johnson’s affliction terrifies both the inhabitants of Whilomville and Watermelon Alley. This terror is experienced by Alek Williams’ wife once Johnson attempts to escape from the Williams’ home. When Johnson escapes, Alek Williams’ "wife was staring aghast. She stood in front of the stove, and her arms were spread out in the natural movement to protect all the sleeping ducklings" (Crane 225). Commenting on this scene in his essay "Face, Race and Disfiguration," Mitchell writes:

Rhetorically, the scene recapitulates the central episode of the fire, presenting a Whilomville family (black now rather than white) drawn into alignment by the absent but intensely felt figure of Johnson. With a certain magical consistency, as if Johnson were a force field, their faces excitedly mirror the face they so desperately want to imagine. (Mitchell 184)

10Mitchell makes an interesting comparison between Jimmie’s rescue and Johnson’s escape. The burning of Johnson’s face during the Trescott house fire is central to Crane’s tale. Without this scene, Johnson would have never physically turned into a monster. On the other hand, the fear exhibited by the Williams family when they look into the face of Johnson is just as crucial to the narrative. Both the Williams family and Johnson are metaphorically cursed as a result of race. Thus, the image of the Williams’ family staring into Johnson’s absent face represents the moment at which the symbolically cursed stare into the eyes of the physically cursed.

  • 6 Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," Diacritics 16 (4), Spring 1986, 22-27. "From the standpoint of (...)

11In the case of The Monster, the absence of Johnson’s face functions as what Michel Foucault would describe as a counter-site for the Williams family.6 The absence of Johnson’s face represents the absence of identity obtained by the Williams family as a result of their social circumstance. The Williams family realizes their metaphoric absence as they stare into the blank face of Johnson. Here, the subjugated blackness image is depicted in comparison to the onlookers. In this case, Johnson’s physical disfigurement is simultaneously created in comparison and opposition to the Williams family.

12After Johnson frightens the Williams family during his escape, he runs into town and frightens the white community. One instance of this terror takes place at Theresa Page’s birthday party. At the party, a little girl begins to hear noises coming from outside the window. Once the little girl turns towards the window she faces the dark shadows of the night. The appearance of Johnson outside the window at Theresa Page’s party is never confirmed; however, it is interesting how the absence/presence of Johnson is connected to the terrifying presence of darkness. The fact that Johnson is shrouded in darkness connotes a negative association in relationship to the other community members.

13Like Ben in Night of the Living Dead, the ironic presence of Johnson as a man and a monster is directly related to his questionable role as the hero in both of these stories. Both characters become heroes of the story due to their courage. The fact that Johnson and Ben live in societies that undermine their identities completely negates their heroic qualities. Hence, both heroes are ironically linked to the causation of terror. In this case, before the reader can accept these characters as heroes, he must first accept these characters as human beings.

  • 7 Clyde Taylor, The Mask of Art: Breaking the Aesthetic Contract-Film and Literature (Bloomington and (...)

14If Crane presents forms of Ethiopicist modes of storytelling when dealing with his American Africanist image, then Wright presents examples of Aesopian modes of storytelling when replying to Crane’s representation of the American Africanist image. Furthermore, if Ethiopicism is described by the act of whites constructing a concept of self through the subjugation of blacks then Taylor’s concept of Aesopianism is the act of black constructing a concept of self by replying to the white perception of black while at the same time, intentionally and/or unintentionally subjugating white.7 Here, the Aesopian performer communicates two distinctive messages through one image; one message is communicated to a "majority" audience, while other message is communicated to a "minority" audience. Wright captures Taylor’s idea of Aesopian irony in his representational treatment of the monster in his novella The Man Who Lived Underground.

15The Man Who Lived Underground depicts a black man’s figurative quest towards identity and liberation. Paradoxically, Fred Daniels gains a concept of truth within the confines of a city sewer. He hides underground for a period of three days because he is falsely accused of murdering a white woman. During his time underground, Daniels is able to view the aboveground world from a different perspective. As a result of his underground living environment, Daniels gains a sense of wholeness in relationship to his social culture. Thus, he becomes liberated from the ideologies that control him as a black man aboveground and is given agency to construct his own social reality. Here, Daniels is enlightened. Daniels realizes that he is not a monster in fact, but is socially constructed as a monster.

16Unlike Henry Johnson in The Monster, Fred Daniels obtains the ability to understand the source behind his monstrous transformation. Here, the reader is given an interior view into the monster’s world. Wright’s choice to capture the representation of Daniels’ inner self is communicated on varying levels. In this case, Wright conveys a sense of black identity through perceived Eurocentric interpretations of blackness. Through the characterization of Fred Daniels, Wright simultaneously replies to a racist society and creates an interpretative vision of the figurative quest of black identity within that racist society. This interaction becomes clear in a reading of Daniels’ figurative transformation into the monster, Daniels’ act of terror, and the narrative treatment of blackness and whiteness images.

17Daniels does not necessarily turn into a monster like Johnson; however, his representation in the aboveground world after he lives in the sewer suggests monstrous qualities. For example, once Daniels climbs out of the sewer he begins to wander around town.

He wandered into a spacious doorway of a store that sold men’s clothing and saw his reflection in a long mirror: his cheekbones protruded from a hairy black face; his greasy cap was perched askew upon his head and his eyes were red and glassy. His shirt and trousers were caked with mud and hung loosely. His hands were gummed with black stickiness. He threw back his head and laughed so loudly that passers-by stopped and stared. (Wright 1440)

18Daniels symbolically takes on the characteristics of the monster. Rather than becoming hideously burned like Henry, Daniels’ physical appearance changes as a result of living in darkness for three days. The fact that Daniels laughs at his image in the mirror highlights his personal transformation. Daniels laughs so loud that he causes a spectacle for people on the street. The spectacle that Daniels causes is similar to the spectacle Johnson causes in Whilomville. While Daniels causes a spectacle with his laughter, his laughter also symbolizes how he attains a new perception of the aboveground world. Because Daniels is able to gain a deeper view of the aboveground world from the underground, he is able to reconcile identity and his social reality.

19Joseph A. Young comments on Daniels’ ideological transformation in his analysis, "Phenomenology and Textual Power in Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground," when he writes, "his [Daniels’] exploration of the underground is profoundly phenomenological; that is, he dissolves the meaning of conventional cultural sensory images to reconstruct them on his own terms" (Young 70). Young suggests that through Daniels’ enlightenment, Wright collapses perceived Eurocentric interpretations of blackness and reconstructs these interpretations of blackness through Daniels’ appearance. For instance, as Daniels looks at himself in the window, he is no longer concerned with his physical appearance. Nothing is important to him except his mental liberation. As a result of his mental liberation, Daniels is given agency to choose how he presents himself and what he wants from the aboveground world rather than letting the ideology of an aboveground world dictate his mentality for him.

20From this point, Wright presents a moment of terror for the white characters within the text when Daniels goes back to the jewelry store by using the underground pathway he creates. A white woman spots him moving through the shadows and becomes terrified of Daniels’ presence. The narrator observes, “A fair-haired white girl stood in front of a steel cabinet, her blue eyes wide upon him. She turned chalky and gave a high-pitched scream” (Wright 1426). Two white men come to her aid. In the meantime, Daniels escapes through a hole in the basement. The men do not see any signs of an intruder and end up making light of the incident. From here, Daniels continues on his journey as if nothing had happened. Here, Wright indirectly critiques Crane’s presentation of terror caused by the blackness image. While Crane creates a dramatic moment of terror in relation to the suggested presence of Henry at Teresa Page’s birthday party, Wright understates this moment of terror through the actual presence of Daniels. In this interaction, Wright is critiquing the conventional idea of the black male as a sign of terror for white characters.

21To suggest Wright’s downplays the white terror of blackness here is not to suggest that this scene does not have significance. The narrative attention Wright pays to this scene is significant in relation to his critique of white perceptions of blackness images. Here, Wright illustrates the conflation of fear and the black male image. The fact that he pays little narrative attention to this incident shows how the associations of these two images are historically embedded in the collective consciousness of American culture. His lack of narrative attention also illustrates that the insertion of a brief, candid, and arbitrary display of black presence/white fear can provoke the same reader reaction to an example like the long, drawn-out and dramatic incident of Teresa Page’s birthday party in The Monster.

22Wright progressively moves outside the conventional ideological boundary of darkness and lightness as Daniels begins to explore the depths of the sewer. One example of this movement takes place once Daniels is able to control the light for himself. When Daniels hangs the stolen watches on the wall, for example, he metaphorically and literally experiences a moment of enlightenment:

He took a fistful of nails and drove them into the papered walls and hung the watches upon them, letting them swing down by their glittering chains, trembling and ticking busily against the backdrop of green with the lemon sheen of the electric lights shining upon the metal watch casings, converting the golden disks into blobs of liquid yellow. (Wright 1433)

Daniels is given agency to create his own light in this underground dwelling by using a form of artificial light from the street lamps and natural light given off by the watches.

23Here, Daniels is able to create a sense of "dark light" representing both the constructed ideology attached to his race and his pursuit to overcome that same ideology while creating a black cultural reality free from Eurocentric conceptual frameworks.

24Another example of how Wright plays with the image of the "dark light" is found in the following passage once Daniels flings the stolen diamonds on the sewer floor. "Brooding over the diamonds on the floor was like looking up into a sky full of restless stars; then the illusion turned into its opposite: he was high up in the air looking down at the twinkling lights of a sprawling city" (Wright 1434). After Daniels takes the stolen diamonds and spreads them on sewer floor, he looks at them as if he is looking up into the sky. Here Wright revises the act of ascending towards the stars in works such as Dante’s Divine Comedy. At the conclusion of the Divine Comedy, the narrator states, "My Guide and I crossed over and began/To mount that little known and lightless road/To ascend to the shining world again" (Alighieri 1141). The narrator descends into the depths of hell later to ascend toward the stars in the heavens. Wright’s rewriting of Dante’s journey upwards represents a moment of enlightenment for the narrator. Once he has experienced all the levels of hell, he is given agency to move upwards towards the heavenly stars. On the other hand, Daniels has already taken the journey of the descent but he metaphorically ascends without actually ascending by creating his version of heaven on the sewer floor. Here, Wright complicates the connotations of light and dark by creating a star-like heavenly atmosphere within the confines of the underground sewer.

25Wright uses the concept of "dark light" throughout Daniels’ journey; so much so, that he reverses the preconceived values of blackness and whiteness. For instance, the aboveground is illuminated by a "dark sunshine" (Wright 1435). The longer Daniels is secluded from the aboveground world, the longer he becomes comfortable in his underground habitation. In the aboveground world he faces a charge for a murder he did not commit. Hence, the only control that Daniels obtains over his life is present underground. As Daniels continues to become enlightened, he gains a richer understanding of his social place. After he spreads the diamonds on the ground he falls asleep and has a dream. In his dream, Daniels’ body is stretched out on a white table. Daniels observes his body on the table and notices a group of people on the opposite side of the room:

At the far end of the room he saw a crowd of people huddled in a corner, afraid of his body. Though lying dead upon the table, he was standing in some mysterious way at his side, warding off the people, guarding his body, and laughing to himself as he observed the situation. They’re scared of me he thought. (Wright 1435).

26Daniels’ placement in opposition to the people in the room reiterates the symbolic placement of his seclusion. The vision reveals to him that the people fear the presence of his body. Thus, Daniels realizes that he is not a monster by nature but made to be a monster by society. After he realizes this, he gains a richer understanding of his function in the aboveground world. Unlike Johnson, Daniels is made aware of the social factors that go into his monstrous transformation. As a result, he relinquishes the label of the monster. Thus, the people inhabiting the aboveground world become the monsters in the mind of Daniels. For example, when Daniels ascends the "terrible darkness" to reach the world aboveground, he decides to go to the police and confess to a murder that he does not commit. Daniels becomes liberated underground; therefore, he removes himself from the ideological and material constraints of the world aboveground. Even though the real murderer is caught, Daniels insists that he is guilty because of his experience underground. While underground, Daniels creates a sense of fear for people living in the aboveground world, he commits theft and his invisibility eventually leads to a suicide. Along with these acts, Daniels’ position underground allows him see the dark side of human nature as he experiences theft, abuse and apathy from the inhabitants in the aboveground world. Thus, Daniels is not only confessing his guilt, but he is also confessing for the guilt of human nature. In a sense, Daniels’ need to confess liberates him from the ideological and material constraints of the world aboveground; nevertheless, Daniels’ act of ascent actually leads to his pointless death.

27In the following passage, Daniels convinces the police to follow him to his underground home, so that he can show them the items that he steals:

Then there was a thunderous report and a streak of fire ripped through his chest. He was hurled into the water, flat on his back. He looked in amazement at the blurred white faces looming above him. (Wright 1450)

When Daniels leads the police officers to his underground habitation, Lawson the head officer, shoots Daniels in the back. Lawson states, "You’ve got to shoot his kind. They’d wreck things" (Wright 1450). As Daniels’ dying body falls into the sewer current he looks up at the policemen. The last thing he sees before he dies is the “looming” presence of white faces. These looming white faces become the source of Daniels’ terror, which eventually leads to his death. The act of looking up at these faces illustrates how Daniels’ control is completely taken away and put into the hands of the white characters. In this case, the faces of the policemen become haunting figures that control the fate of Daniels.

28The death of Daniels is very similar to the death of Ben in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Both characters are ironically only given agency to die at the end. The fact that Daniels dies at the end of the novella illustrates Wright’s movement within and outside the ideological boundaries of blackness and whiteness. In this case, Wright’s choice to kill off his hero critiques the questionable depiction of the American Africanist presence from Eurocentric perceptions such as Crane’s depiction of Henry in The Monster or Romero’s depiction of Ben in Night of the Living Dead. In the case of Crane and Romero, the monster obtains a darkness quality that is associated with the black body. On the other hand, Wright challenges the idea of the black body as the metonym for darkness and suggests the darkness of human nature.

29In terms of metaphor, Romero, Crane and Wright all depict a symbolic and actual moment of monstrous transformation. In Romero’s film, Ben never actually transforms into a monster; however, the act of Ben being mistaken for a monster and killed like a monster suggests a correlation between Ben and the monster. Johnson experiences a moment of monstrous transformation once a jar of acid is spilled onto his face in Crane’s novella, The Monster. On the other hand, the symbolic transformation of Wright’s monster happens once Daniels looks into the mirror of the department store window. In terms of metonymy all of these monsters are represented in perfect juxtaposition to the world within and outside the text. In that respect, all of these monsters are black male Africanist images that cause fear for the people living in their specific communities.

30Furthermore, the monster is inserted to provide a level of fear for the characters and readers. Crane and Romero employ black male figures to highlight the presence of the monster and critique the construction of monstrousness. Wright also does this; however, Wright’s monster is part of the cultural community of monsters that are depicted in The Monster and Night of the Living Dead. In some instances, Wright uses the monster to speak to a black cultural audience. Here Wright challenges his Black implied reader to reconstruct or pay homage to a black American identity.

31The American Africanist presence is a manifestation of symbolic words that carry a host of ideological meanings. My analysis explores how these connotations in relation to the Africanist presence are represented in American literature. In this case, Taylor’s theoretical framework of discursive irony shows how these novels revise the Africanist image. A primary focus on Ethiopicism and Aesopianism illustrates how the Africanist presence is translated in Romero’s film and Crane and Wright’s novellas.

32Taylor’s framework of discursive irony can be used a framework to translate constructions beyond American Africanisms and it is not limited to literary images such as the monster. Further, Taylor’s interpretative framework sheds light on literary thematic meanings and the development of these meanings in American literature. An explanation of this interaction is not wholly exclusive to race, but also it provides an interpretative framework for the dissemination of self/otherness discourse in language and literature.

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Alighieri, Dante, The Divine Comedy, Translated by John Ciardi. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Mack Maynard ed. et al., New York & London: W.W. Norton Company, 1997.

Andriano, Joseph D., Immortal Monster: The Mythological Evolution of the Fantastic Beast in Modern Fiction and Film, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Crane, Stephen, "The Monster," Collected Stories and Poems by Stephen Crane, New York: Book of the Month Club, 1997.

Foucault, Michel, Diacritics 16 (4), Spring 1986, 22-27.

Mitchell, Lee Clark, "Face, Race and Disfiguration in Stephen Crane’s The Monster," Critical Inquiry, 17 (1), Autumn, 1990, 174-192.

Morrison, Toni, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, New York: Vintage, 1990.

Taylor, Clyde, The Mask of Art: Breaking the Aesthetic Contract-Film and Literature, Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Wright, Richard, "The Man Who Lived Underground," The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, Henry Louis Gates ed., New York: London: W.W.Norton Company, 1997.

Young, Joseph, "Phenomenology and Textual Power in Richard Wright’s The Man WhoLived Underground," MELUS (26) 4, Winter, 2001, 69-93.

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2 I agree with Fredrik Barth’s theoretical observation of ethnicity not as thing but a social process. Thus, race in regards to ethnicity becomes a process of socialization. Therefore, when I refer to "black" or "white" in my analysis, I am referring to these terms to signify socially constructed racial dichotomies.

3 Clyde Taylor, The Mask of Art: Breaking the Aesthetic Contract-Film and Literature (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1998). It is not my intent to explicate all six levels of discursive irony here. Rather, I pay close attention to Ethiopicist and Aesopian forms of discursive irony. For a more detailed discussion of Taylor’s six levels of the discursive irony, please see page 160 in The Mask of Art.

4 Joseph D. Andriano, Immortal Monster: The Mythological Evolution of the Fantastic Beast in Modern Fiction and Film (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1999). Andriano illustrates the symbolic function of the monster in American fiction. Andriano illustrates how the monster functions as a metaphor and/or metonym. As a metaphor, the monster is a representation of a human characteristic. In this case, the human obtains bestial characteristics. On the other hand, the monster as a metonym is represented in juxtaposition with the human.

5 Lee Clark Mitchell, "Face, Race and Disfiguration in Stephen Crane’s The Monster," Critical Inquiry, 17 (1), Autumn 1990, 174-192. See quote: "This is the horror of Henry Johnson: He still has a voice once his face is gone and persists in engaging others in dialogue, eliciting terror when all he desires is a simple response" (Mitchell 180).

6 Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," Diacritics 16 (4), Spring 1986, 22-27. "From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstruct myself there where I am" (Foucault 24).

7 Clyde Taylor, The Mask of Art: Breaking the Aesthetic Contract-Film and Literature (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1998). On the Aesopian performer when he writes, "My use of the term begins with its generic sense of a speaker from a repressed community who inscribes one text for general (majority) consumption and another more subversive level of signification to be appreciated within the "freemasonry" of the sub-cultural group" (Taylor 166).

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Bibliographical reference

Joseph L. Lewis, « Monsters and Heroes: The Ironies of Black Subjectivity in Stephen Crane’s The Monster and Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground », Caliban, 31 | 2012, 161-172.

Electronic reference

Joseph L. Lewis, « Monsters and Heroes: The Ironies of Black Subjectivity in Stephen Crane’s The Monster and Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground », Caliban [Online], 31 | 2012, Online since 16 March 2015, connection on 15 April 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Joseph L. Lewis

Delta College, University Center, MI.

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Licence Creative Commons
Caliban – French Journal of English Studies est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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