Wright, Negritude,
and African Writing

ALTHOUGH from Native Son ( 1940) to The Long Dream ( 1957) many black protagonists in Richard Wright's fiction cling to the prevalent stereotype of Africa as the "dark continent," these negative views held by the teenage friends of Bigger or Fishbelly by no means reflect the position of the author. As early as 1940, in his biting answer to David L. Cohn's criticism of Native Son, Wright declared that although African culture had been torn from the Negro in the New World, he "possessed a rich and complex culture when he was brought to these alien shores. He resisted oppression." 1 Even though Wright did not believe in the practicality or desirability of Marcus Garvey's movement, he had shown an interest in African culture, which he also expressed during his 1946 visit to France, long before he could contrast his expectations and African reality during his 1953 stay in the Gold Coast. He was not, however, a believer in "negritude." In opposition to the theses developed in Melville Herskovits's Myth of the Negro Past, Wright's conceptual approach to AfroAmerican culture through the perspective of the Chicago School of Social Research led him to emphasize, along with E. Franklin Frazier, the relative lack of "African survivals" in the United States. From the start, he thus tended to stress differences, rather than similarities, between AfroAmerican and African cultures. For personal reasons, especially because of the oppressive role of religion in his childhood, he also tended to consider religious beliefs shackles to individual freedom. However, in the literary field much of his writing reflected his opposition to the stereotypes of the "noble savage, extolled during the Harlem Renaissance, which emphasized a somewhat mythical bond with African origins. As a result, Wright's initial outlook on African culture was that of a Westerneducated, Marxist-oriented agnostic, quite conscious of the differences between Afro-American and African social, political and cultural conditions.

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