Wright's South

"Southland was bad and mean But this North is hard and cold"

RICHARD WRIGHT is as much a son of Mississippi as is William Faulkner, yet many of his readers do not think of him as a southern writer. This is because of Native Son, which depicts black life in the ghettos of the North, or The Outsider, which is steeped in existential and ideological controversy, and because of social comments on continents other than America in Black Power, Pagan Spain, or The Color Curtain. Most readers, however, cannot escape associating Wright with the South because the tremendous impact of his autobiography, Black Boy, lies in his having managed to survive in Mississippi (i.e., one of the most destitute and racist parts of the United States) and finally leave it. Black Boy, implied that a black youth had to escape southern destitution and discrimination to become a writer, which, being black, he was not even supposed to attempt. As a result, Black Boy makes Wright a writer out of the South, not of it.

Wright liked to see himself as an individual who happened to be born in a poor black Natchez family and had to carve for himself not only his own identity through rebellion but seek a chosen place -- a place of freedom versus servitude, knowledge versus cultural void, action versus apathy. Also, he would cast himself in the persona of a man forever seeking a place where he could be more fully human, moving from Mississippi to Memphis, to Chicago, to New York, to Paris; visiting different parts of Europe, America, Africa, and Asia; and, for a while, joining the Gary Davis movement in order to be a "citizen of the world." At the close of a lecture in Paris, he once told a student: "You see, the differenee between the two of us is that I am completely free, I have no roots, whereas you are bound by European history and the tyranny of place." 1 Beyond the metaphorical opposition between myths of the New World and the Old, this was a defiant, perhaps heroic statement, yet literally not a believeable one. Like others of his generation, Wright was heir to the

-77-

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The World of Richard Wright
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Introduction 3
  • Wright's First Hundred Books 12
  • Black Cat and White Cat: Wright's Gothic and the Influence of Poe 27
  • From Revolutionary Poetry to Haiku 34
  • Beyond Naturalism? 56
  • Wright's South 77
  • From Tabloid to Myth: "The Man Who Lived Underground" 93
  • "The Man Who Killed a Shadow": A Study in Compulsion 108
  • Fantasies and Style in Wright's Fiction 122
  • Wright's Image of France 144
  • Wright and the French Existentialists 158
  • Wright's Exile 176
  • Wright, Negritude, and African Writing 192
  • Appendixes 215
  • Index 263
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