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The Transformation of Self and Other: Restorative Justice in Richard Wright’s Native Son

Sullivan, Dennis
June 4, 2015

Source: (2006) Contemporary Justice Review. 9(4): pp. 401-426

Anyone who has suffered a harm at the hands of another knows that healing from that harm involves personal transformation. Sometimes a friend, family member, or even someone from the ‘helping professions’ becomes the catalyst for that transformation. On special occasions a person who has suffered a harm at the hands of another heals and then reaches out to the person who was the source of the harm, thereby becoming a transformer of his or her life. Bud Welch of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, immediately comes to mind. We can also see examples of this kind of transformation in literature. One of the finest examples can be found in Richard Wright’s Native Son, when Jan Erlone forgives Bigger Thomas, the man who killed and dismembered his girlfriend. This article examines this kind of ‘transformative justice’ in ‘real life’ but especially in the text of Native Son. In the case of the latter we argue that understanding the scene depicting the reconciliation between Jan and Bigger is critical for understanding Wright’s intent and hope for this American classic and America itself. It also connects us with the currently flourishing restorative/ transformative justice movement. (author’s abstract)


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