Fantasies and Style
in Wright's Fiction

JUST after the publication of Native Son, Richard Wright accepted, on the request of his friend, the psychiatrist Frederic Wertham, an analysis permitting, by means of free association, recovery of some unconscious elements which had played a determining role in the novel's genesis. Wertham published the results of his work under the title "An Unconscious Determinant in Native Son", in The Journal of Abnormal Psychology, July, 1944.

One of Wertham's discoveries serves us as a point of departure, not so much to explain certain writing processes by reference to the novelist's traumatic past as to investigate the symbolic and stylistic structure of certain episodes by connecting them to scenes of comparable configurations lived by Wright.

Just as in the tragedy of Hamlet, where one of the crucial scenes is the appearance of a paternal spectre in the room of Queen Gertrude, the key scene of Wright's novel is the accidental death of Mary, brought about by Bigger in the presence of her mother. In the course of his analysis, some associations became available to Wright, referring back to an episode that he had experienced as a fifteen-year old. But it was only some months later that Wright recollected fully those experiences and recognized them. In other words, these fundamental experiences, intimately tied to the key scene of the novel, were not available to Wright's consciousness at the time when he wrote Native Son, nor even at the beginning of the analysis specifically focusing on the sources which had inspired his creation of the fictional Dalton family.

At the age of fifteen, Wright worked before and after school for a white family which he called Bibbs in Black Boy. Mrs. Bibbs, who lived with her husband and her mother, was a beautiful young woman who showed Richard a certain affection, so that his employer's house was almost a second home to him. Like Bigger in the Dalton house, Richard took care

-122-

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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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