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Lewis Nordan's Wolf Whistle account of the Till Murder - Essay Example

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In "The Making of a Book," an essay written not long after the publication of his novel Wolf Whistle, a fictionalized re-imagining of the Emmett Till murder, Lewis Nordan explains the difficulty that he had in approaching his material and the eventual solution that he found…
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Lewis Nordans Wolf Whistle account of the Till Murder
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Download file to see previous pages He claims that his "racial identification with the murderers" troubled him and that he felt "by race and geography [...] somehow implicated." He adds, "[M]aybe I believed that as a white guy who knew the [murderers] and never spoke out against the injustice, or even asked a question about it at the dinner table, it was simply not my story to tell". Eventually he realized that he could use his fiction to explore his feeling of implication and the society in which he feels so implicated. In Wolf Whistle, he has written what he calls "the white trash version of the Emmett Till murder": " [...] the story of the people who were on the periphery of this terrible thing, who didn't know what was going on, didn't quite understand their own culpability in the situation".
Nordan's project in Wolf Whistle has an affinity with that of Toni Morrison and other social theorists and literary critics who in recent years have begun to turn the gaze of race theory toward the construction of white identity. A brief examination of their contributions to the field may help us to understand better Nordan's novel. In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Morrison describes her project as "an effort to avert the critical gaze from the racial object to the racial subject, from the described and imagined to the describers and imaginers" and to "examine the impact of notions of racial hierarchy, racial exclusion, and racial vulnerability on nonblacks who held, resisted, explored, or altered those notions". Morrison proposes not to treat whiteness in American literature as natural and self-sustaining but rather as something "sycophantic", constructed, contingent on an Africanist presence. She hopes to refute the conventional wisdom that "because American literature has been clearly the preserve of white male views, genius, and power, those views, genius, and power are without relationship to and removed from the overwhelming presence of black people in the United States".
Many other literary critics have taken up Morrison's cause and have reexamined the American literary canon with a different gaze. Jerry Phillips discusses how "certain literary texts illuminate the pedagogy of whiteness, the way one learns to experience oneself as a member of the 'white race'" and goes on to discuss a few of the "countless ways in which United States literary works aided in the naturalization of whiteness". Phillips argues that "we critics should commit ourselves to illuminating issues of contingency, historicity, and arbitrariness" in the construction of whiteness. Rebecca Aanerud calls for "the development of a critical reading practice that foregrounds the construction and representation of whiteness and will challenge the way in which many texts by white United States authors are complicit with the discourses of white supremacy". She further argues that "Whiteness, like race in general, cannot be understood simply as a natural phenomenon [...]. The recognition of whiteness as not a set fact--that is, having white skin--but instead as a product whose meaning and status must be sustained by a process of reproduction along pre-established lines is crucial to an interruption of whiteness as the status quo". Phillips and Aanerud also lay the burden of deconstructing and decentering whiteness at the feet of literary ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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