Journal article Open Access

A "Savage Mode": The Transmedial Narratology of African American Protest

Chris Hall


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    "description": "<p>This article explores narrative in African American protest art by examining Richard Wright&rsquo;s 1940 novel Native Son, alongside 21 Savage (Shayaa Abraham-Joseph) and Metro Boomin&rsquo;s 2016 rap album Savage Mode. I open with a discussion of Native Son as a project of protest and with James Baldwin&rsquo;s criticism of the novel, and of protest fiction at large. Centring Baldwin&rsquo;s critique, this article explores the violence and horror of the narrative worlds of Wright&rsquo;s Bigger Thomas and Abraham-Joseph&rsquo;s 21 Savage, in an effort to discover if these works are capable of complicating Baldwin&rsquo;s claims and expanding notions of what protest is and how it operates.<br>\nBy applying Marie-Laure Ryan&rsquo;s concept of storyworlds, and the attendant &ldquo;principle of minimal departure,&rdquo; the article lays out a narratology of protest. The social protest of these works, I find, is rendered uniquely efficacious by the violence that takes place within their storyworlds, violence that operates as a visceral, unignorable force urging real-world change. Because of its impact on the reader or listener, violence and discomfort within these narratives directs that user toward extra-narrative action. In building on the transmedial approach that Ryan encourages, and examining Savage Mode as a contemporary work of protest that shares a narrative technique with Native Son, the article also discusses some recent engagements with rap music in traditional scholarship and popular writing.<br>\nThroughout, I put forth the argument that both Savage Mode and Native Son function as powerful works of protest against real-world conditions, protests that operate via narratives that empathically involve their users in violent storyworlds. Abraham-Joseph&rsquo;s protest, then, furthers Wright&rsquo;s, as both are works that operate in a &ldquo;savage&rdquo; narratological &ldquo;mode&rdquo;&mdash;one of intense violence and discomfort which, read as protest, has the capacity to prompt an activist response in the user.</p>", 
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    "keywords": [
      "rap and hip-hop; storyworld; Richard Wright; Native Son; James Baldwin; African American literature"
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    "publication_date": "2019-10-21", 
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        "affiliation": "University of Kansas (US)", 
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