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

Chris Hall


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    <subfield code="a">rap and hip-hop; storyworld; Richard Wright; Native Son; James Baldwin; African American literature</subfield>
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    <subfield code="a">&lt;p&gt;This article explores narrative in African American protest art by examining Richard Wright&amp;rsquo;s 1940 novel Native Son, alongside 21 Savage (Shayaa Abraham-Joseph) and Metro Boomin&amp;rsquo;s 2016 rap album Savage Mode. I open with a discussion of Native Son as a project of protest and with James Baldwin&amp;rsquo;s criticism of the novel, and of protest fiction at large. Centring Baldwin&amp;rsquo;s critique, this article explores the violence and horror of the narrative worlds of Wright&amp;rsquo;s Bigger Thomas and Abraham-Joseph&amp;rsquo;s 21 Savage, in an effort to discover if these works are capable of complicating Baldwin&amp;rsquo;s claims and expanding notions of what protest is and how it operates.&lt;br&gt;
By applying Marie-Laure Ryan&amp;rsquo;s concept of storyworlds, and the attendant &amp;ldquo;principle of minimal departure,&amp;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.&lt;br&gt;
Throughout, 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&amp;rsquo;s protest, then, furthers Wright&amp;rsquo;s, as both are works that operate in a &amp;ldquo;savage&amp;rdquo; narratological &amp;ldquo;mode&amp;rdquo;&amp;mdash;one of intense violence and discomfort which, read as protest, has the capacity to prompt an activist response in the user.&lt;/p&gt;</subfield>
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