He’s a rapist, even when he’s not: Richard Wright’s Man of All Work as an analysis of the rape of Willie McGee

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Abstract

Tommy J. Curry considers Wright’s views on gender in terms of the historical reality of black males’ vulnerability to sexual violence at the hands of white men and white women. Curry explores Wright’s impassioned response to the 1951 trial and execution of fellow Mississippi native Willie McGee. McGee had been charged with having raped a white woman, Williametta Hawkins, who had been described as his mistress but who, in fact, had threatened to cry rape if he refused her advances. Curry reports that at that time, black men, often out of economic need, were sometimes coerced into sexual intercourse by threats of false accusations of rape. Otherwise, they would be either literally or metaphorically lynched. In a way unprecedented in Wright scholarship, Curry frames Wright’s “The Man of All Work” as an allegory for the rape of McGee. In the story, a black man cross-dresses in search of employment in domestic work. This leads to a series of misunderstandings and misidentifications by whites that almost kill him. Curry concludes that this story was far more than a clever plot: it effectively expressed a particular set of humiliations and dilemmas faced by black men.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Political Companion to Richard Wright
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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