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The Specter of White America's Surveillance in Richard Wright's Native Son and Chang-Rae Lee's Native Speaker

Hye-Ran Jung, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation investigates white America’s racial surveillance in various guises and its impacts on the inner worlds and the subject formation of non-white minorities, not only through intertextual readings of Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) and Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker (1995), but also by conducting close individual analyses of these early masterful works of Wright and Lee. In particular, the paper focuses on panoptic white surveillance in 1930s Chicago and 1990s New York City, which frames Wright’s and Lee’s novels. In so doing, I argue that panoptic white surveillance was enacted in order for white society to maintain the status quo through their exclusive possession of national resources in the face of the potential risk posed to white America and white privilege from the influx of non-white people to the major metropolitan areas in the United States—specifically the mass migration of southern African Americans to Chicago and the vast inflow of Asian immigrants to New York City. This study reveals not only the various external modes of surveillance—such as visible, coercive, disguised, and hidden—which were manifested in the practices of “Jim Crow” regulation and a private intelligence firm Glimmer & Company, but also the technology of self-surveillance in which non-white people monitor themselves by internalizing the prevalent white gaze. Furthermore, hegemonic white culture induces non-white people to perform habitual self-surveillance in their daily lives; in the meantime, they are striving to transform themselves to achieve “hegemonic whiteness” in most aspects of their life or become successfully assimilated minorities who achieve a socio-cultural status closer to that of middle-class white people in mainstream American society. Examining these links between panoptic white surveillance and the particular modes of subjectivity that racial minorities feel compelled to take on, this dissertation attempts to extend the ever-growing field of surveillance studies to the arenas of race theory as well as “political subjectivity” that is produced amid power relations such as the white-dominant social structure of the United States. In summary, this study explores what panoptic white surveillance does to post-bellum African Americans and post-Korean War Korean Americans through comparative and individual analyses of the representative African American’s and Korean American’s masterpieces

Subject Area

American literature|Asian American Studies

Recommended Citation

Jung, Hye-Ran, "The Specter of White America's Surveillance in Richard Wright's Native Son and Chang-Rae Lee's Native Speaker" (2020). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI28086098.