Date: May 2002
Creator: Polizzi, Allessandria
Description: Early in Richard Wright's Native Son, we see Bigger and his friend Gus “playing white.” Taking on the role of “J. P. Morgan,” the two young black men give orders and act powerful, thus performing their perceived role of whiteness. This scene is more than an ironic comment on the characters' distance from the lifestyle of the J. P. Morgans of the world; their acts of whiteness are a representation of how whiteness is constructed. Such an analysis is similar to my own focus in this dissertation. I argue that whiteness is a culturally constructed identity and that work serves as a performative space for defining and transgressing whiteness. To this end, I examine work and its influence on the performance of middle class and working class whiteness, as well as how those outside the definitions of whiteness attempt to “play white,” as Bigger does. Work enables me to explore the codes of whiteness and how they are performed, understood, and transgressed by providing a locus of cultural performance. Furthermore, by looking at novels written in the early twentieth century, I am able to analyze characters at a historical moment in which work was of great import. With the labor ...
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