Black Cat and White Cat:
Wright's Gothic and the Influence of Poe

IN enumerating such requirements for literary success as the ludicrous heightened into the grotesque: the fearful colored into the horrible: the witty exaggerated into the burlesque: the singular wrought out into the strange and the mystical, 1 Edgar Allan Poe certainly spoke from experience. That is, he sought those literary qualities with avidity, for he felt that to really be appreciated, one must be read. And read he was, not only by his contemporaries but also by twentieth-century readers lured by similar, fascinations -- and especially by a young black American writer named Richard Wright. Tales of horror and imagination were the favorite reading of Richard Wright, who had his first significant literary experience when a fearless teenager told him the tale of Bluebeard in the household of his book-hating Seventh-Day Adventist grandmother. This; gruesome story was the first experience in his life that elicited from him a total emotional response. 2 It certainly paved the way for his inordinate love of melodrama, murder stories, and ghastly settings.

Among the books and magazines he read in his youth, Wright lists not only Zane Grey Riders of the Purple Sage, but also Flynn's Detective Weekly and Argosy All-Story Magazine. One of his favorite tales is that of "a renowned scientist who had rigged up a mystery room made of metal in the basement of his palatial home. Prompted by some obscure motive, he would lure his victims into his room and then throw an electric switch. Slowly, with heart-racking agony, the air would be sucked from the metal room and his victims would die, turning red, blue, then black." He comments: "This was what I wanted, tales like this. I had not read enough to have developed any taste of reading" ( Black Boy, pp. 34-35).

Although he later developed a taste for the realistic fiction of Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson, Wright never forgot this version of "The Pit and the Pendulum" or "The Cask of Amontillado," brought up to date to foreshadow the horrors of the gas chamber. The first story which Wright

-27-

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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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