The Art of Richard Wright

By Edward Margolies | Go to book overview
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6
Foreshadowings: Lawd Today

Lawd Today, Richard Wright's first novel (published posthumously in 1963), is in some ways more sophisticated than his second, the more sensational Native Son, which established his popularity, and to a large extent his reputation. It is ironic that this should be so in view of the fact that Native Son has subsequently come to be regarded as a brilliant but erratic work by an author who was perhaps ignorant of modern experimental techniques in prose fiction. For had Lawd Today been published when Wright completed it, such an impression might never have gained acceptance. If the novel reveals anything about its author, it indicates that Wright had learned his Joyce, his Dos Passos, his James T. Farrell, his Gertrude Stein only too well. It is not that Lawd Today is a hodgepodge of the styles of the above authors -- actually, Wright is usually in good control of his material -- but that Wright here appears as much interested in craftsmanship, form and technique, as he is in making explicit social comment. Indeed, social comment derives from the way Wright structures the novel -- twenty-four hours in the life of a Negro postal worker -- and the theme does not confine itself to Negro oppression but says something about the very quality of life in urban America. Moreover, Wright uses here for the first time a Negro anti-hero: Jake Jackson is a loutish, heavy handed, narrow, frustrated, and prejudiced petit bourgeois who, though unable to cope with his envi

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