Comparing Richard Wright's Native Son and Black Boy

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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      

-                                                                          

  ON MAX'S SPEECH                                                           

  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       

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erroneously tends to symbolize in Bigger. He does not challenge the        

false charge of rape against Bigger, though Bigger did not rape            

Mary, and though this is the eternal bourbon slander flung against         

Negroes. He does not deal with the heinous murder of Bessie, tending        

to accept the bourbon policy that crimes of Negroes against each other     

don't matter and are not cut from the same capitalist cloth.               

                      -Ben Davis, Jr., Sunday Worker, April 14, 1940,      

            reprinted in Richard Wright: The Critical Reception, 1978      

-                                                                          

  Max, in his image of the American people proceeding to their doom        

like sleepwalkers, catches up these images of darkness present on          

all sides. It is this blindness that he emphasizes throughout his          

speech. If the judge reacts only to what he has to say about the           

sufferings of Negroes, he states, he will be "blinded" by a feeling         

that will prevent him from perceiving reality and acting                   

accordingly. "Rather, I plead with you to see... an existence of men       

growing out of the soil prepared by the collective but blind will of a     

hundred million people" (p. 328). "Your Honor," he exclaims, "in our       

blindness we have so contrived and ordered the lives of men" (p.           

336) that their every human aspiration constitutes a threat to the         

state.                                                                      

                 -Paul N. Siegel, "The Conclusion of Richard Wright's      

                          Native Son," reprinted in Richard Wright: A      

                                  Collection of Critical Essays, 1984      

-                                                                          

  ON BLACK BOY                                                             

  Black Boy clarifies the nature of Wright's importance. In any            

strictly literary sense, he broke no new ground, established no new        

devices or techniques or methods. He did not make us see our               

experience in new ways; he made us see new experience. He had a            

perception about America, a perception of a part of America that was       

unknown territory. His importance is not really literary but what we       

should call cultural. We come to him not for new ways of saying things     

but for the new things he has to say. When he does get "literary" on       

us, when he draws himself up into "writing," he is merely fancy, and       

he fails. He would say of his effort in Black Boy, "If I could             

fasten the mind of the reader upon words so firmly that he would           

forget words and be conscious only of his response, I felt that I          

would be in sight of knowing how to write narrative. I strove to           

master words, to make them disappear..." His ability to do that is a        

major achievement of Black Boy, a book virtually uncontaminated by his     

old rhetoric. In Native Son there was too much forensic slag, too many     

set pieces, a prose racing in all directions, and an explanatory           

moral. Five years later, Wright has freed himself of his revolutionary     

slogans and all that went with them; he has grown into his craft and       

his sense of his life's meaning.                                           

                     -Dan McCall, The Example of Richard Wright, 1969      

                                                                            

 

                                    


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