In Popular Fiction in America, Beacham Publishing, 1987.
In Black Boy (1945) Richard Wright reports that he published his first story "The Voodoo of Hell's Half Acre" in the Jackson Southern Register when he was fifteen, but no complete version of this juvenile effort has been found. Wright began to write seriously after moving to Chicago when he was nineteen. There, in 1931, he published the story "Superstition" in Abbott's Monthly Magazine and became involved with the John Reed Club and the Communist Party. Soon his poetry began to appear in leftist literary magazines such as The Anvil, Left Front, New Masses, and International Literature. While working for the Illinois Federal Writers' Project, he wrote his first novel Lawd Today (1963), but he did not try to publish it in deference to the potential objections of the Communist Party. Some of the stories that were later collected in Uncle Tom's Children (1938) and Eight Men (1961) did appear at this time: "Big Boy Leaves Home" (1936) in The New Caravan, "Silt" (1937) in New Masses, and "Fire and Cloud" (1938) in Story.
Wright moved to New York City in 1937, where he wrote a guidebook to Harlem for the New York Writer's Project and reported for the Daily Worker. The successful publication of Uncle Tom's Children and a Guggenheim fellowship allowed him to work on Native Son, which appeared in 1940 and immediately made Wright more widely read than any previous black novelist. The Broadway production of a dramatization co-authored with Paul Green soon followed, and within a year, Wright published the folk history 12 Million Voices (1941) in collaboration with photographer Edwin Rosskin.
At the suggestion of his publisher, Wright turned to autobiography. Black Boy, an account of the author's first seventeen years, was another critical success for Wright, but embittered by the racist materialism of American society and encouraged by a trip to Europe in 1946, Wright left the United States and established permanent residence in France in 1947. His next novel The Outsider (1953) demonstrated his involvement with the existential thinking of the Temps Modernes group gathered around Jean-Paul Sartre. During his remaining years of exile, Wright published two more novels Savage Holiday (1954) and The Long Dream (1958); a collection of essays and lectures White Man, Listen! (1957); and three books of travel and sociopolitical commentary Black Power (1954), The Color Curtain (1956), and Pagan Spain (1957). A collection of stories Eight Men (1961), the first novel he had written Lawd Today (1963), and a continuation of his autobiography American Hunger (1977) were published posthumously.
Critical Reception, Honors, and Popularity
Wright overcame tremendous handicaps to achieve literary success. As a child growing up in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas, he suffered racial discrimination, poverty, familial disruption, and limited educational opportunities, yet he became the most important black American writer of his time.
In 1938, Wright's "Fire and Cloud" won the Story magazine fiction contest, and Uncle Tom's Children brought the young author national attention and broadly favorable reviews. Wright was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship In 1939, and Native Son was published the following year. The novel was made a Book-of-the-Month-Club selection, and quickly became the first best-seller written by a black American. Wright immediately became a controversial literary spokesman for black America. He was awarded the Spingarn Medal for creative excellence in 1942, and interest in his work and thought remained high throughout the war years. Black Boy was a great success and is still considered Wright's masterpiece by many critics.
Some reviewers had attacked Wright's harsh portrayals of black life, his leftist beliefs, and the crudity of his narrative technique, but after Wright left the United States and became involved with French existentialism, the attacks increased. The Outsider (1953), Savage Holiday (1954), and The Long Dream (1958) received decreasing attention in the United States, and most critics saw these later works as evidence of Wright's decline. The critical consensus dismissed Wright's philosophy and scolded him for straying from what they believed was his natural subject matter.
Thus, Wright, although certainly not a forgotten figure, had suffered a serious loss of reputation in the United States by the time of his death. Furthermore, his work was generally regarded as of sociological rather than literary interest. American criticism published since 1968 has helped to reestablish Uncle Tom's Children, Native Son, and Black Boy as important artistic achievements, but Wright's European work continues to be more widely read and appreciated abroad than in the United States.
Analysis of Selected Titles
Uncle Tom's Children 1938, stories.
Uncle Tom's Children originally contained four lengthy stories: "Big Boy Leaves Home," Down By the Riverside," "Long Black Song," and "Fire and Cloud." "Bright and Morning Star" was added to the 1940 edition. The book is unified by the stories' shared social context, common themes, and consistent narrative technique. It is made coherent by an arrangement that leads the reader toward increasingly sophisticated examples of self-realization.
The stories are set in the rural South of Wright's childhood, and they graphically portray the systematic racial oppression suffered by southern blacks. The black characters portrayed in them are weakened by poverty, threatened with racist violence, and tested by death; yet, they reveal an inherent strength and a potential for heroic rebellion.
But Wright's concern is not merely racial, for the stories describe the perennial hard times of the rural South, exacerbated by the Great Depression. Against this background of class animosity and social upheaval, Wright projects the ideal of interracial collective action.
The common theme of the stories In Uncle Tom's Children is the struggle to find personal dignity in an oppressive society, but the individual stories in the collection describe various levels of self-awareness and portray various reactions to oppression. Throughout the book, a tension between Wright's faithful presentation of the Communist Party line and his heretical, intuitive belief in black nationalism is evident.
Written before Wright broke with the Communist Party, the stories express his belief in Marxist theories of economic determinism and his belief in the efficacy of collective action. This didactic presentation of Marxist theory is most obvious in "Fire and Cloud," which concludes with a triumphant, though improbable, interracial protest march and in "Bright and Morning Star," which idealizes the personal sacrifices made to protect the secrecy of an interracial Communist organization. However, parallel messages are communicated less directly in the other stories, for all of the stories demonstrate the deterministic influence of social and economic conditions and the futility of an individual's effort to rebel- unless that effort is part of a collective action.
Nevertheless, the stories also display Wright's intuitive belief in black nationalism. His black characters, often through a revelatory experience of racist violence, are made aware of their status as outsiders. There is no emotional shading, and the reader must sympathize with the oppressed blacks and despise the cruelty of the whites. Although Wright introduces sympathetic white Communists in two stories, they are not believable, and the ideal of interracial cooperation is undercut by his graphic depictions of racist violence committed by whites.
The characters in Uncle Tom's Children ,;struggle against an environment of racial animosity that pushes them toward savagery. Through their efforts to resist this process, Wright's black protagonists attain varying degrees of self-awareness at the cost of physical and mental suffering. Ironically, some achieve a momentary vision of freedom and a better understanding of themselves only at the point of death. Their determination despite overwhelming opposition and terrible suffering makes them tragically doomed heroes. The arrangement of the stories presents the reader with a rough progression of increasing sophistication, as characters achieve more advanced levels of knowledge and move toward collective solutions to their social problems.
"Big Boy Leaves Home" describes Big Boy's initiation to the harsh social reality of the rural South. The story moves from the playful innocence of a day at the swimming hole to the brutal execution of one of Big Boy's companions by a white mob. Similarly, Big Boy is forced to change from an overgrown child into an emotionally hardened young man who calmly kills a rattlesnake and a dog before escaping the South and his childhood in a truck bound for Chicago.
In "Down by the Riverside," the symbolically named Brother Mann is a sacrificial character caught in a devastating flood and then destroyed by a racist system of justice that values property more than human life. Mann steals and murders to save others, but he cannot kill merely to protect himself from incrimination. Mann's heroic effort to preserve life is, in the end, as futile as any single man's effort to hold back the flood.
The two central characters in "Long Black Song" portray opposing reactions to oppression. Silas, embittered by the infidelity of his wife and the frustrations of chasing the bourgeois dream of ownership in a social system that does not treat him equitably, realizes that "The white folks ain never gimme a chance! They ain never give no black man a chance!" The story concludes with a gunfight between Silas and several white men, and although Silas is murdered, he briefly experiences a sense of manhood and freedom. His wife Sarah, from whose perspective the story is told, embodies the enduring strength of southern blacks, their ability to suffer and survive.
Reverend Taylor, the central figure in "Fire and Cloud," is a leader of the black community, a man who has won influence through accommodations with the white establishment. A revelatory beating administered at night by white thugs finally convinces Taylor that whites will never willingly give up their oppressive ways. Taylor is the only protagonist in Uncle Tom's Children who triumphs, for he realizes that he must abandon his individualism and join in collective action.
Aunt Sue in "Bright and Morning Star" has been convinced by her Marxist sons that the Communist vision of heaven on earth is the reasonable equivalent of Christian salvation. Her heroic murder of an informer who is about to reveal the names of other Communist sympathizers is a selfless act undertaken for the collective good.
Thus, Wright's characters portray three phases of development: the full awareness of oppression, individual efforts to strike back, and collective actions to change the system.
Many critics have suggested that Wright's southern stories are his best work, and it is clear that they have continued to be widely read and often anthologized. Despite their occasionally too obvious didacticism, the stories in Uncle Tom's Children convey an emotional power that has not been diminished by the passage of time nor the alteration of the social conditions they address.
Uncle Tom's Children shows the influence of literary realism and naturalism. Wright's prose is direct and graphic, focusing on the dark and violent aspects of life in the rural South during the Thirties. His effective use of dialect and black folk culture increase the realism of his stories. As in much literary naturalism, Wright's characters sometimes seem doomed by their social environment.
Yet, Wright's style in Uncle Tom's Children is also affected by his didactic purpose. Wright's straightforward narration emphasizes his message, and like other proletarian authors Wright breaks from the pessimistic determinism of naturalism by idealizing some characters and supporting their heroic opposition to oppression with an underlying hope for melioration.
Wright's simple narrative technique is enriched @y the use of symbols and allusions. Characters' names, natural phenomena, colors, and pervasive biblical references are used to strengthen Wright's messages. As a result, the stories take on many of the characteristics of allegory.
As Wright recounts in Black Boy (1945), literary naturalists such as Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis formed his earliest reading and provided the aspiring writer with models: "All my life had shaped me for the realism, the naturalism of the modern novels, and I could not read enough of them." After moving to Chicago, Wright was also influenced by the proletarian literature published alongside his poetry in leftist literary magazines. Meanwhile, the American public was being prepared for less romantic and more pragmatic explorations of American society and the human condition by the popular social novels of John Dos Passos, James T. Farrell, and John Steinbeck.
The Bigger Thomas of Native Son can be read as a continuation of the character Big Boy, a connection that is implied by their names. In this sense, Native Son extends the process of cruel discovery that begins in "Big Boy Leaves Home," and "Big Boy Leaves Home" provides sociological documentation for a character like Bigger.
Wright's autobiographical Black Boy (1945) recounts the first seventeen years of his life and provides a parallel to the sort of experiences dramatized in Uncle Tom's Children. As in "Big Boy Leaves Home," Wright's own life included violent confrontations, racist hatred, and an escape from '@-he South.
Native Son , 1940, novel.
In Native Son Wright shifted his focus to the problems of urban blacks in the North, but his picture of a two-tiered society based on racial discrimination and the protection of property rights remained the same. Although the racist thugs of Uncle Tom's Children are replaced by avaricious landlords, irresponsible journalists, and brutal police in Native Son , the slums of South Side Chicago, like the rural South portrayed in Uncle Tom's Children, is a place in which the dreams of success are available to all but the means to achieve them are restricted to the few.
The particular hardships of black residents of South Side Chicago are set against the background of the Great Depression, political corruption, wealthy capitalists, and urban blight. Native Son explores the social unrest created by the hard economic times, particularly the interest in radical political solutions represented by Marxists such as Jan Erlone and 'Boris Max.
In creating Native Son, Wright was able to use his personal experience of nearly ten years' residence in South Side Chicago, sociological studies of Chicago compiled by Louis Wirth, and considerable material taken directly from the highly publicized trial of a Chicago black man named Robert Nixon. Nixon was eventually convicted and electrocuted for murdering a woman with a brick, and at one point, he was defended by the leftist International T-Labor Defense, but Wright made most use of the sensational, racist media coverage of the Nixon trial.
The central theme of Native Son is the central theme of most black American writing, the doubleness of black existence in the United States. In particular the novel explores the stifling limitations imposed on blacks. Bigger expresses this sense of exclusion as he and his buddies stand idly on a street corner watching a plane fly overhead: "They got things and we ain't. They do things and we can't. It's just like living in jail." As in Uncle Tom's Children, the central movement of Native Son is toward the development of self-awareness, Bigger's development is perverted by environmental pressures that make him feel that violence is his only way to self-realization.
Native Son is a psychological as well as a sociological novel, and Bigger's development is outlined by the three sections of the novel: "Fear," "Flight," and "Fate." "Fear" documents Bigger's condition, living a life of poverty and hopelessness with his mother and sister. His entire existence is based on fear and his greatest fear is to let this fear show. "Flight" shows Bigger's sense of self increase as his personal danger increases. He enjoys the independence and power of confusing the white authorities, and his brutal murder of his girlfriend Bessie Mears exhilarates him because, unlike his accidental suffocation of Mary Dalton, it is a consciously willed action that earns him the freedom to "live out the consequences of his actions." In "Fate," the novel becomes more expository. In his lengthy summation, Bigger's lawyer Boris Max argues that all of society shares the guilt for Bigger's crimes, and Max's efforts awaken a desire for human trust in Bigger.
But Native Son is not a simple rejection of white America, for the novel shows that behind Bigger's violence is a desire for acceptance. The real tragedy of Native Son is that Bigger can find no other way to express his potentially healthy desire "to merge himself with others and be part of this world, to lose himself so he could find himself, to be allowed a chance to live like others, even thought he was black."
In Bigger Thomas, Wright creates one of the most disagreeable characters in American literature, yet he manages to portray him sympathetically. Wright's task is complicated by Blgger's inarticulateness, a limitation that compels the author to communicate
Bigger's condition through authorial intrusions, symbolism, and action-filled narrative.
Wright carefully shows how Bigger is shaped by the conditions of his existence. In fact, his situation is so hopeless that Bigger must avoid recognizing it or his self-awareness will lead him to violent and probably self-destructive actions: "He knew that the moment he allowed what his life meant to enter fully into his consciousness, he would either kill himself or someone else." Thus, Bigger's principal fear is self-knowledge, but his whole existence is conditioned by fear, and Bigger hates what he fears. The sense of self that Bigger develops after his murders is therefore too psychologically valuable for him to accept the friendship offered by Boris Max in the final section of the novel.
Bigger, of course, is more than a sociological case study, for he embodies the Nietzschean notion of the modern man so alienated from traditional mores that he must make his own rules of behavior. In this sense, Bigger is a metaphysical revolutionary, intuitively rebelling against the very conditions of his life. He sees a world of suffering, and if he cannot make this world match his innate sense of right, he will imitate its injustice: "He attacked a shattered world in order to demand unity from it." In doing so, Bigger becomes a monster, white America's nightmare of the "nigger." But Bigger will embrace even this identity because he has lived too long in a world that denies him any sense of self.
Wright's efforts to portray sympathetic white characters fall. The idealistic Jan Erlone and Mary Dalton never escape the shallowness of Wright's treatment. Mr. and Mrs. Dalton exist more as symbols of misguided white liberalism than as individuals. Boris Max is so overburdened with the responsibility of functioning as Wright's spokesman that his own personality is lost.
In Native Son, Wright uses the same combination of direct, naturalistic prose and symbolism that he employed in Uncle Tom's Children. He carefully reconstructs the physical reality of South Side Chicago, using material gathered from sociological studies as well as his own experience. He then skillfully invests objects with symbolic significance, a technique that helps him overcome the linguistic limitations of his inarticulate protagonist.
But the most striking characteristic of Wright's method in Native Son is the stylistic shift in the last third of the novel. "Fear" and "Flight" are driven by violent, fast-paced action and terse, concrete prose that has been called some of the best suspense writing in American literature, but "Fate" is static, and Wright's prose moves toward the formality of exposition. This final section is often openly propagandistic, as Wright uses Boris Max to articulate the theoretical basis for Bigger's rebellion. In effect, "Fate" is as much an explication of what has preceded it as it is a conclusion to the narrative.
Called the black version of An American Tragedy, Native Son adheres more closely to the naturalistic method practiced by Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis than Uncle Tom's Children had. Bigger's willful violence makes him at best an anti-hero, and any hope for melioration seems remote. Wright's careful documentation of Bigger's condition and his reproduction of newspaper accounts is reminiscent of the popular social novels written by John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, and James T. Farrell. At its worst moments, Native Son echoes the cold, analytical prose of much proletarian literature.
Native Son is an extension of what Wright began in Uncle Tom's Children, and it is not difficult to imagine Bigger Thomas as a direct descendent of Big Boy from "Big Boy Leaves Home," but Native Son is also a reaction against the sentiment of Wright's earlier stories. Wright himself complained that Uncle Tom's Children had been "a book even bankers' daughters could read and weep over and feel good about." He wanted Native Son to "be so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consolation of tears." Thus, he consciously worked to toughen his novel and the character of Bigger Thomas.
Although critics generally have felt that Wright's existential writing marks a distinct break from his earlier work, "The Outsider" has many parallels with Native Son. Cross Damon is, to some extent, an articulate and educated version of Bigger Thomas. Both characters share a pervasive sense of alienation, and each resorts to violence to justify his existence.
The first significant adaptation of Native Son, a dramatization co-authored with Paul Green, was successfully produced on Broadway by John Houseman and Orson Welles less than a year after the novel's publication. This Mercury Theater production starred Canada Lee.
The first film version was an amateurish production filmed in Argentina and released in 1951. It is notable because Richard Wright played the lead role of Bigger Thomas.
A controversial film version released in 1986 stars Victor Love, Elizabeth McGovern, Matt Dillon, Oprah Winfrey, Akousa Busia, Willard Pugh, Geraladine Page, Carroll Baker, and John Karlen. Producer Diane Silver and director Jerrold Friedman fought over the inclusion of Bessie Mears' murder, and Silver's ultimate decision to eliminate Bigger's brutal act caused some reviewers to complain that the film softens and distorts Wright's novel.
The Outsider , 1953, novel.
The Outsider resulted from Wright's post-war effort to find a philosophy to replace the Communism that he had rejected in 1942. Disillusioned by Communism's failure to adequately account for the human personality, disgusted by the rampant materialism and intransigent racism of American culture, and shocked by the explosion of the atomic bomb, Wright sought a global vision that would transcend the confines of race and nation.
After moving to France in 1947, Wright felt he had found such an answer in the French existentialists. He was an active part of the Rassemblement De"mocratique Revolutionnaire, the existentialists' political effort to convince Europe to reject both the United States and the Soviet Union in favor of European neutrality. The Temps Modernes group viewed Wright as a "representative man," and Wright was able to spend much time with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and others.
Thus, although The Outsider has a black American protagonist who feels oppressed by American capitalism and racism, the novel's concern is with the human condition in the modern world rather than with race relations in the United States. Wright maintained that the hero of this novel could have been any color.
The central theme of The Outsider is Cross Damon's quest for freedom: "I wanted to be free to feel what I was worth." Yet at the end of the novel, he admits that he has "discovered nothing."
At first, the protagonist feels existential nausea, a sense of alienation that leads him to accept a Nietzschean view of an amoral universe in which man is destined to become either an executioner or a victim. The transit accident, in which Damon is reported to have been killed, allows him to create a new life, but he discovers that the egotistical exercise of freedom destroys those around him, including the one person he loves.
One problem is that Damon's effort to live for himself collides with his basic humanitarian feelings. in fact, he despises the will to power that drives men such as Gil Blount. Damon's murders do not free him: instead, he becomes, like Blount, a little god playing with others' lives. The novel shows that the will to power negates the idea of universal freedom because it destroys the freedom of others.
Damon also fails to live authentically, to become one of those "men who were outsiders because they had thought their way through the many veils of illusion," for the life he creates and his relationships with other characters are based on deception. he cannot overcome his conviction "that bad faith of some degree was an indigenous part of living."
As he is dying, Damon states that "alone a man is nothing" and wishes that he "had some way to give the meaning of my life to others, but he fails in this effort. Unlike Houston, Damon cannot accept social norms in which he does not believe, so he dies, like Joseph Conrad's Kurtz, with an enigmatic reference to the 'horror" of his life.
Thus, The Outsider explores the ideal of freedom but provides no hopeful answers. Opposing ideologies are rejected, society is shown to be based on pretense, human nature is portrayed as brutal, and the possibility of creating a meaningful sense of freedom seems remote.
Because The Outsider is a novel of ideas, characterization is subordinated to exposition. Therefore, all of the characters, including Cross Damon, are types, representative of intellectual positions.
Cross Damon, although not fully believable, is a memorable character whose name suggests an inverted Christianity. Damon is a metaphysical rebel, an ethical criminal who attempts to create "the kind of life he felt he wanted."
Although Wright suggests that a black intellectual such as Damon has a special objectivity, he wants Damon to be an existential Everyman who transcends racial distinctions. Wright's protagonist has been shaped by reading Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Doestoevski, and others. Psychologically, Damon has developed in reaction to the Christian guilt of his mother and the oppressive tedium of his work. His anger is not a special condition of his blackness.
Few critics have been able to accept the contradiction between Damon's stoicism and his passion. On the one hand, Damon is a man who rationally rejects traditional codes of behavior. He reacts to his murders with cool analysis, and he shows no emotion when confronted with his wife and children or the news of his mother's death. Yet, in other ways, Damon is a man driven by "hot impulse," egotistical desires that move him to murder and love.
The other characters exist primarily to exemplify or elaborate portions of Damon's philosophy. Ely Houston is Damon's mirror image, a kindred spirit who shares his sense of metaphysical rebellion but who chooses to support the legal system. In fact, his beliefs match Damon's so well that the lines in their long debates could be interchanged.
Eva Blount is an impossibly idealistic and naive character who can only see Damon as a fellow victim. When he reveals the truth of his actions to her and cannot explain his motivation, she kills herself in despair. Damon's love for her and his desire to protect her reveal the humanitarian yearnings that hide behind his brutal acts.
Gil Blount and the other Communist officials are portrayed as inhumanly using people for ideological goals. In this sense, Damon sees little difference between them and the capitalists they oppose. By murdering Blount and the fascistic Herndon, Damon strikes out at two essentially similar men, only to realize that his action is simply another misuse of power. Thus, Damon kills them in part because he sees a frightening reflection of himself in them.
The Outsider presents readers with an uncomfortable mix of melodrama and political discourse. Because Wright's protagonist is highly educated and articulate, the author can introduce lengthy philosophical discussions throughout the book, either as interior monologues or as debates with Damon's alter ego Ely Houston. Although these passages of exposition are sometimes clumsy interruptions of the narrative, they remind the reader that Wright's purpose is to write a novel of ideas. Moreover, Wright is able in The Outsider to avoid the drastic stylistic shift he used in the final section of Native Son.
The Outsider is clearly the result of Wright's involvement with existential thinkers following his move to France, but the influence of earlier writers can also be seen in his protagonist, for Cross Damon is a direct descendent of Melville's Ahab or Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov, a Nietzschean figure of metaphysical rebellion that predates existentialism.
Moreover, while Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus influenced Wright in the years before the publication of The Outsider both through their writing and personal contact, in The Outsider Wright created an American existentialism distinct from his French influences. The difference is most clearly seen in Cross Damon's egotistical passion, which distinguishes him from Albert Camus's supremely indifferent Meursault. In an effort to explain this sort of difference, later critics have suggested that The Outsider is actually an anti-existential novel or a Christian existential novel.
Existential or not, The Outsider is a logical extension of Wright's earlier fiction and thought. In Native Son (1940), Bigger expresses in a less articulate manner the same sort of rage and dread felt by Damon. And as in Native Son, Wright's protagonist is paired with a white foil who sympathizes with the protagonist's anger, but works within the establishment. In "The Man Who Lived Underground," Fred Daniels, like Damon, wants to share his hard-earned knowledge with others. In "Art and Fiction," Wright maintained that personal freedom was conditioned on the freedom of others. Thus, in The Outsider Wright addressed familiar themes but consciously tried to move beyond the racial limitations of his earlier work.
Selected Other Titles
Twelve Million Black Voices, 1941 (nonfiction); Black Boy, 1945 (autobiography); Savage Holiday, 1954 (novel); Black Power, 1954 (nonfiction); The Color Curtain, 1956 (nonfiction); Pagan Spain, 1957 (nonfiction); White Man, Listen!, 1957 (essays); The Long Dream, 1958 (novel); Eight Men, 1961 (stories); Lawd Today, 1963 (novel); American Hunger, 1977 (autobiography).
Avery, Evelyn Gross, Rebels and Victims: The Fiction of Richard Wright and Bernard Malamud. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1979. Discusses Wright's protagonists as examples of alienated, black rebellion.
Baldwin, James, Notes of a Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press, 1955. Includes "Everybody's Protest Novel" and "Many Thousands Gone," essays which criticize Wright's sensationalization and exaggeration of black life.
Bone, Robert, Richard Wright. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1969. A short pamphlet that effectively introduces Wright's work and explores his attraction to existentialism.
Brignano, Richard, Richard Wright: An introduction to the Man and His Works. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970. A thematically arranged study that includes a particularly thorough examination of Wright's use of Marxism.
Fabre, Michel, The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright. New York: William Morrow, 1973. A complete and reliable biography that includes critical evaluation of Wright's work.
Fabre, Michel, The World of Richard Wright. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1985. A collection of essays that is particularly useful in understanding Wright's exile and his relationship to existentialism.
Hakutani, Yoshinobu, Critical Essays on Richard Wright. Boston: G.K.Hall, 1982. A valuable collection of original and reprinted articles that cover the range of Wright's fiction and nonfiction with an introduction that provides a thorough overview of the relevant criticism.
Kinnamon, Keneth, The Emergence of Richard Wright: A Study in Literature and Society. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973. Critical and biographical study that examines Wright's development up to the publication of Native Son.
Margolies, Edward, The Art of Richard Wright. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969. The first book-length study to focus on Wright as an artist as well as a proletarian writer.