Beyond Naturalism?

THAT Richard Wright is a naturalist writer has generally been taken for granted by American critics. In his review of Lawd Today, entitled "From Dreiser to Farrell to Wright", Granville Hicks proceeded, not incorrectly, to show that

. . . he could scarcely have failed to be influenced by James T. Farrell who was just beginning to have a strong effect on American fiction. As Farrell had learned something about documentation from Dreiser, so Wright had learned from Farrell. 1

When he reviewed The Outsider for the New York Times, the same critic noted:

. . . if the ideas are sometimes incoherent, that does not detract from the substance and the power of the book. Wright has always been a demonic writer, and in the earliest of his stories one felt that he was saying more than he knew, that he was, in a remarkable degree, an unconscious artist. 2

Other reviewers even seemed to regret that Wright attempted to deal with ideas. In his review Orville Prescott stated that "instead of a realistic sociological document he had[d] written a philosophical novel, its ideas dramatized by improbable coincidences and symbolical characters."3 And Luther P. Jackson outspokenly lamented that the

words of Wright's angry men leap from the page and hit you between the eyes. But Wright can no more resist an argument on the Left Bank than he could a soapbox in Washington Park. The lickety-split action of his novel bogs down in a slough of dialectics. 4

It is clear, then, that Wright is regarded not as a novelist of ideas or as a symbolist, but as an emotionally powerful creator who writes from his guts and churns up reality in a melodramatic but effective way because he is authentic, close to nature, true to life. Conversely, the critics's displeasure at his incursions into other realms than that of social realism proves

-56-

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