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Comparing Richard Wright’s Native Son and Black Boy

Critiques on Native Son and Black Boy

Bigger has no discernible relationship to himself, to his own

life, to his own people, nor to any, other people- in this respect,

perhaps, he is most American- and his force comes not from his

significance as a social (or anti-social) unit, but from his

significance as the incarnation of a myth. It is remarkable that,

though we follow him step by step from the tenement room to the

death cell, we know as little about him when this journey is ended

as we did when it began; and, what is even more remarkable, we know

almost as little about the social dynamic which we are to believe

created him.

-James Baldwin, “Many, Thousands Gone,” reprinted in

Twentieth Century Interpretations of Native Son, 1972

Native Son, though preserving some of the devices of the

naturalistic novel, deviates sharply from its characteristic tone: a

tone Wright could not possibly have maintained and which, it may be,

no Negro novelist can really hold for long. Native Son is a work of

assault rather than withdrawal; the author yields himself in part to a

vision of nightmare. Bigger’s cowering perception of the world becomes

the most vivid and authentic component of the book. Naturalism

pushed to an extreme turns here into something other than itself, a

kind of expressionist outburst, no longer a replica of the familiar

social world but a self-contained realm of grotesque emblems.

-Irving Howe, “Black Boys and Native Sons,” reprinted in

Twentieth-Century Interpretations of Native Son, 1972

Throughout, the physical description that Wright rushes by us

makes us feel the emotional force of the objects but not see them with

any real accuracy: we are aware of the furnace and storm as poles of

the imagination- fire and ice- in a world of symbolic presences.

Continually the world is transformed into a kind of massive skull, and

the people are figments of that skull’s imagination.

-Dan McCall, The Example of Richard Wright, 1969


But Max represents the type of so-called legal defense which the

Communist Party and the I.L.D. have been fighting, dating from

Scottsboro. Some of his speech is mystical, unconvincing, and

expresses the point of view held not by the Communists but by those

reformist betrayers who are being displaced by the Communists. He

accepts the idea that Negroes have a criminal psychology as the book

The Fight in Richard Wright’s Black Boy Wright Black Boy Essays

The Fight in Black Boy In the penultimate chapter of Black Boy, Richard very uncharacteristically participates in a boxing match with Harrison, a fellow “black boy” employee. Though this seems unlikely early in the chapter, Richard eventually caves to Harrison’s requests for a fight. The culture instigating this fight is fairly obvious: the white employers want to see the black boys fight like a “dog or rooster” for their entertainment. The ideology behind the event, then, would be the assumptions of the white men, like most in the Southern culture in this book, are that blacks are inferior to whites. This idea is not consciously implemented into the minds of the employers, but it is an aspect of the culture that they take for granted. In the minds of Richard and Harrison, however, such a fight would be degrading. However, Harrison needs the money that the white men offer him for the fight. For Harrison, it is not so much an ideology that influences his choice, but a need, that cash is necessary to survive. For Richard, though, a deeper influence may be pressing him to fight. All through Chapter 12, Richard opposes the idea of a fight. Even at first, when the white men try to trick him into thinking that Harrison wants to hurt him, he is wary and intelligent enough to not fall for the ploy. Later, when Harrison presses him to fight, Richard says, “‘I don’t want to fight for white men. I’m no dog or rooster.'” However, almost immediately thereafter, Richard agrees to the fight. What caused this sudden change of mind? Call them ideologies, perhaps, but there is a combination of factors that lead Richard to fight. First of all, Richard feels a loyalty to Harrison as a co-worker and fellow “black boy”, evidenced in Richard’s narration: “Harrison and I knew each other casually, but there had never been the slightest trouble between us” and “Harrison was black and so was I; I would ignore the warning of the white man and talk face to face with a boy of my own color.” Secondly, the ideas that the employers plant in the minds of Richard and Harrison are seeds of doubt that both men can stifle for a while, but eventually they grow and flower. Richard tells us, “We were toying with the idea of death for no reason that stemmed from our own lives, but because the men who ruled us had thrust the idea into our minds.” Perhaps, in these words, the fear of unemployment or worse, death at the hands of the white men, also caused Richard to fight. By doing this, Richard feels he has “done something unclean for which I [he] could not properly atone.” In fighting for the white men, Richard has helped maintain the status quo of the white-superior society. This fight certainly maintains the status quo in Southern culture in this era. Black submission to the white man was accepted and expected every day, and by allowing himself to fight, Richard feels he has not only let down himself, but his entire dream as well. Throughout the book, Richard tries to change cultural standards, and in fighting Harrison, he has given up on those standards, if only for a moment, and allowed himself to help the culture he fights so hard to change. The cultures of black and white, in this scenario, are both in conflict and in support of each other. It appears that black culture is supporting white culture, in that the black boys participate in the fights staged by white men. However, these fights are, at the same time, degrade black culture further. As Richard sees it, blacks must escape from this kind of oppression, and for Richard, that escape is education, his key to freedom. The uncharacteristic fight that Richard takes place in is, indeed, not so uncharacteristic at all, once the ideology and culture of his surroundings are examined. Though Richard feels, perhaps, that he should not have taken part in the fight, the message he conveys in the book would not be quite the same. It is not one ideology or one aspect of his culture that led him to the decision to fight, but rather, it was many smaller sub-ideologies that brought him to the decision.

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