The Art of Richard Wright

By Edward Margolies | Go to book overview

5 The Short Stories Uncle Tom's Children; Eight Men

Although Richard Wright's fame as an author of fiction rests chiefly on the impact of his Chicago novel, Native Son, he first came to the attention of the general reading public with the appearance of a collection of five of his stories about life in the rural South, Uncle Tom's Children. 1 The great publicity attendant on the publication of Native Son has obscured the fact that Wright focused so many of his fictional settings in the South -- and that his "southern" stories are perhaps his best artistic achievement. Moreover, it is in these stories that the reader may find the theme, the structure, the plot, and the ideational content of all his later fictional work. Although Wright, when he wrote these stories, was a convinced Communist, it is revealing how related they are to the later phases of intellectual and political development. Here, for example, one finds Wright's incipient Negro nationalism as each of his protagonists rises to strike out violently at white oppressors who would deny him his humanity. More significantly his Negro characters imagine whites as "blurs" "bogs," "mountains," "fire," "ice," and "marble." In none of these stories do his heroes act out of a sense of consciously arrived at ideology (most of them, as a matter of fact, are ignorant of Marxism), but rather out of an innate, repressed longing for freedom -- or sometimes merely as an instinctive means of self-survival. Often the act of violence carries along with it a sudden revelatory sense

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