The Art of Richard Wright

By Edward Margolies | Go to book overview
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Revolution: Native Son

Whatever may be said of the aesthetic value of Native Son, its impact is as resounding now as it was in 1940 when the novel was first published. This, in spite of the fact that its flaws are more obvious today than they could have been in the last years of the Depression when proletarian literature still enjoyed a vogue. Nearly all the weaknesses and embarrassments that we have come to recognize in proletarian fiction are present in Native Son, yet somehow the reader is not so conscious of them. One reason is that Wright's protagonist, unlike the usual array of proletarian victims, is thoroughly the anti-hero. He is not simply weak like Dreiser's Clyde Griffiths (one of Wright's chief influences here is An American Tragedy), but he is an outright coward. Indeed the first section of Native Son is called "Fear" and traces all the different kinds of fear that determine Bigger Thomas's actions. He is incapable of warmth, love, or loyalty; he is a sullen bully--and he enjoys his first sense of humanity and freedom only after he commits two murders.

Still in certain other respects Native Son possesses many of the characteristic failings of proletarian literature. First, the novel is transparently propagandistic-- arguing for a humane, socialist society where such crimes as Bigger committed could not conceivably take place. Secondly, Wright builds up rather extensive documentation to prove that Bigger's actions, behavior, values, attitudes, and fate have already been


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The Art of Richard Wright


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