Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English



First Advisor

Burrell, Julie

Subject Headings

African American Studies, American Literature, Literature, Modern Literature


The search for identity within Richard Wright’s Native Son and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man has long been analyzed, yet the fact that each protagonist’s search for self is brought to a point of crisis during an intimate interaction with a white woman has often been neglected. Here, I analyze each author’s strategic use of a nameless narrator by utilizing the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Frantz Fanon, arguing that the act of “literary unnaming” is used to critique the development of black American identity during the time of Jim Crow. The use of a nameless narrator is explored through “the unnaming and naming process,” which I situate as symbolic of the historical unnaming of the African people, who were subjected to naming and cultural stripping during the time of slavery. Each narrator’s scene with a white woman (Mary in Native Son and Sybil in Invisible Man) is critiqued in order to highlight the most intimate unnaming and naming process, and is identified as the narrator’s catalyst that begins the re-claiming of his unnamed state, identified here as the “re-naming” process