The Art of Richard Wright

By Edward Margolies | Go to book overview

2
The Fractured Personality Black Boy; 12 Million Black Voices

In general, Wright's nonfiction takes one of two directions. The first concerns itself with the devastating emotional impact of centuries of exploitation on its individual victims. The second is the overall cultural characteristics of oppressed peoples. The first is largely psychological; the second socio-anthropological. Obviously no such absolute division obtains since it is impossible to discuss one without making reference to the other, but for purposes of analysis it may be said that Wright lays greater or lesser stress on one or the other of these issues in each of his works of nonfiction. Black Boy ( 1945), Wright's autobiography of his Southern years, serves perhaps as the best point of reference from which to make an examination of his ideas, since, as we have seen, Wright generalizes from his own experiences certain conclusions about the problems of minorities everywhere.

In producing his autobiography, Wright was beset by certain kinds of moral problems which ordinarily do not confound other authors. How much of the "whole truth" should he record? Would anything he transcribed tend to hurt the cause of the people whom he was championing? Moreover, in his role of "spokesman," would he be guilty of artistic or moral transgression if he were to fictionalize some of the events in his life in order to make a larger point -- to tell a larger truth? (On the second of these problems Wright did indeed suppress certain facts which might have made

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