The Critical Response in Japan to Richard Wright

By Kiuchi, Toru; Hakutani, Yoshinobu | The Mississippi Quarterly, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

The Critical Response in Japan to Richard Wright


Kiuchi, Toru, Hakutani, Yoshinobu, The Mississippi Quarterly


RICHARD WRIGHT WAS INTRODUCED TO THE LITERARY PUBLIC in Japan in 1940 by Moriya Emori, who translated Native Son (Tokyo: Hibonkaku Press). Emori, a leftist poet, was editor-in-chief of The Red Flag [Akahata], an official newspaper for the Japan Communist Party. The year 1940 marked a turning point in Japanese history: World War II had begun in Europe the previous year, and the Pacific War broke out the following year, involving Japan, the United States, and Britain. It is remarkable that Emori was able to obtain a copy of such a radical, epoch-making novel written in America and to publish its translation when a strict censorship was enforced and Japan had severed its cultural ties with America. Only a leftist with an influential literary position was able to accomplish such a task. Curiously, however, the cover of the first edition featured a picture of palm trees and an African hut, which suggests that the designer of the cover misunderstood the meaning of the word Native.

Preoccupied with the war, general readers and literary critics alike paid little attention to Native Son during this period, when reading books in English, let alone discussing them, was regarded as unpatriotic. Wright criticism, in effect, did not begin until the 1950s when translations of other works by Wright appeared: The God That Failed (1950), edited by Richard Crossman, Black Boy (1952), Uncle Tom's Children (1955), and The Outsider (1955). In the early riffles, Marxist politics and criticism had a great number of intellectual followers, and in 1954, a group of leftist critics launched a new organization, the Association of Negro Studies, in the city of Kobe. They began publishing a journal called Negro Studies, renamed Black Studies in 1983. The 1960 issue (no. 12) was devoted to Wright. A year earlier the newspaper Red Flag had published in eight installments a translation of "Big Boy Leaves Home."

In the late forties and in the fifties, critics were unanimous in applauding Native Son not only as a culturally influential literary document but as a well-constructed narrative. Tadatoshi Saito's reading is representative: Native Son is successful not only as protest literature but in its organization of fictional material. Wright's basic philosophy in the novel, Saito observes, is Marxist, but the structure of the novel betrays his latent desire to explore existentialism. (1) Similarly, Isao Sekiguchi, in "Richard Wright's Fiction: A Study of Its Environment," reads Native Son as a sharper attack on racial prejudice than Uncle Tom's Children and regards the novel not merely as protest fiction but as a superb representation of a black man's self-determination. (2)

In the aftermath of World War II, many of the Japanese people were forced to lead a roofless urban life as "outsiders." Out of this chaotic cultural climate emerged a school of young writers who called themselves apres-guerre and tried to create a new form of literature. Younglike writers and critics, exploring the theme of alienation in their own writings, became interested in reading such novels as Camus's The Stranger and Wright's The Outsider. Some of the critics in the fifties were also fascinated by Wright's concept of double vision for African Americans, as shown in The Outsider. Fukuo Hashimoto, for example, notes in Modern Literature [Kindai Bungaku], now defunct, that Wright attempted to create in Black Boy the outsider with double vision. (3) Even though such nonfiction works as Black Power, The Color Curtain, and Pagan Spain were not translated into Japanese, many academic critics commented on Wright's racial and cultural discourse. Reviewing White Man, Listen! for Negro Studies, Yuriko Ishida, a woman critic, read the book as a psychological analysis of the Asian and African elite, who were trying to blend European culture into their lives under white rule.4 Takeo Hamamoto, for instance, comparing Wright with Yoshie Hotta, a Japanese novelist, observed that both Asians and African Americans are united by the color of their skin but that they are separated by their religions.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Critical Response in Japan to Richard Wright
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.