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Black Boy ()

Modern Library Top 100 Non-Fiction Books of the 20th Century (13)

Nothing in the following should be taken to in any way minimize the horrors and degradation of racism.  However, while Richard Wright's classic account of his upbringing in the Jim Crow South remains a powerful indictment of a system of repression and dehumanization which indelibly stain's this great nation's history, the book is somehow simply not a compelling text.  Wright never really engages the reader emotionally nor wins our empathy.  It, thus, seems more important as a historical document than central to the Western Canon.

The primary reason for this is that Richard Wright, as he portrays himself in the book, is just an *expletive deleted*.  And while it is certainly legitimate to argue that he is merely a creation of the malignant system of segregation and racial hatred, the history of the South and of other racist regimes (i.e., Nazi Germany) suggest that he is not an inevitable product of the system.  The Richard Wright that he presents is so brutal, bitter and hate filled, that he is impossible to care about.  He stands in stark contrast to the many still generous, hope filled, decent people who emerged from this same oppression (or others like it); people whose positive vision and dream of freedom brought down Jim Crow within a generation.

Moreover, he compares unfavorably to the survivors of the Death Camps and the Gulag and the other heinous criminal enterprises of the century, who emerged from experiences that were at least as brutal and seemingly soul deadening to produce a body of literature that is instead life affirming.  This is not to suggest that Wright's experiences and reactions and personal development are unworthy of notice and study, rather, I would suggest that we have more to gain by studying Elie Weisel and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Vassily Grossman and Anchee Min and their like, who have turned similar experiences into a testament of hope and human dignity rather than one of despair.

I know you aren't supposed to say these kinds of things in our politically correct age, but I disliked the Richard Wright of this memoir too strongly to genuinely care about his life.  And this feeling of disgust towards his character, allowed at least this reader an unfortunate psychic distance from the revulsion one should feel towards the circumstances and environment of his youth.  More troubling though than the fact that I had this reaction, is that many comments by young readers on the Web and at Amazon indicate that they shared this reaction.  If the texts from which they are supposed to be learning about Segregation are instead putting them off, the way that this one does, that is a serious matter.


Grade: (C)


Richard Wright Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Richard Wright
-REVIEW: of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (Richard Wright, New Republic)
    -ESSAY: How Richard Wright Grappled with Behaviorism, Racism, and Trauma in Native Son: George Makari on the Phobic World of Wright’s First Novel (George Makari, 9/14/21, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: When Richard Wright Broke With the Communists (New Republic, Apr. 19th, 2021)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The Bleak Resonance of ‘Native Son’ (Gary Younge, 10/01/20, New York Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright (AARON COATS, Chicago Review of Books)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: What We Want from Richard Wright (Lauren Michele Jackson, NY Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Richard (Nathaniel) Wright (1908-1960)(kirjasto)
    -Richard Wright--A Web Page
    -Richard Wright: Black Boy (PBS)
    -PHOTOS: (pbs)
    -MWP: Richard Wright (1908-1960)(Mississippi Writers Page)
    -Wright, Richard (
    -Writing and Resistance>> Authors>> Richard Wright
    -Richard Wright, Mississippi writer, A project of Starkville High School
    -Mark's American Author Report: Richard Wright
    -WHO IS AFRAID OF RICHARD WRIGHT ?  (Julia Wright, Statement to the Duval County Committee reviewing Black Boy)
    -ESSAY: "Black Boys and Native Sons" (Irving Howe, DISSENT Autumn 1963)
    -ESSAY: Self-realization in the Novels of Richard Wright  (Alexander Detrick)
    -ESSAY: Richard Wright:   His Literary and Political Impact (Tim McRae)
    -Review of Black Boy (Daniele Fleming, Starkville HS)
    -REVIEW: Richard Wright Early Works: Lawd Today!, Uncle Tom's Children, Native Son (HERBERT MITGANG, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of   RICHARD WRIGHT Early Works: "Lawd Today!" "Uncle Tom's Children." "Native Son." (Alfred Kazin , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of  EXILED IN PARIS Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett and Others on the Left Bank By James Campbell (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of    EXILED IN PARIS Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett, and Others on the Left Bank. By James Campbell (Deirdre Bair, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: C. Vann Woodward: The Mississippi Horrors, NY Review of Books
        Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow by Neil R. McMillen
    -ESSAY: Too Honest for His Own Time (Arnold Rampersad, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: ON REREADING 'NATIVE SON'  (David Bradley, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Crime and Punishment and Explanation in Full  (Peter Monro Jack, NY Times)
    -The Works of Richard Wright, as Written (ELEANOR BLAU, NY Times)