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TERM PAPER IDEAS
1. Compare the character of Bigger Thomas in Native Son to that of the young Richard Wright in Black Boy.
2. Is the young Richard Wright of Black Boy only a rebel against his family or is he also a product of that family's influences in a more positive sense too? Explain.
1. Compare Wright's attitude toward the black church in Native Son and in Black Boy. Does he criticize only or does he see a positive dimension too? What evidence can you offer?
2. Evaluate James Baldwin's critique of Richard Wright in the essays "Many Thousands Gone," "Everybody's Protest Novel," and "Poor Richard." Is Baldwin correct in his criticism of Wright's portrayal of black community life?
3. How does Wright view male-female relationships? Draw evidence from both Native Son and Black Boy.
• STYLE, SETTING, AND STRUCTURE
1. What are the turning points in Richard's development in Black Boy?
1. How accurate was Wright's portrayal of the racism of his time? What is your evidence?
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
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher Hempstead High School, Hempstead, New York
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English Suffolk County Community College, Selden, New York
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department State University of New York at Stony Brook
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee National Council of Teachers of English Student Guide Series Fort Morgan, Colorado
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher Tamalpais Union High School District Mill Valley, California
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English State University of New York College at Buffalo
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies State University of New York College at Geneseo
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education State University of New York at Buffalo
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee National Council of Teachers of English Director of Curriculum and Instruction Guilderland Central School District, New York
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, Illinois
FURTHER READING CRITICAL WORKS
Bakish, David. Richard Wright. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1973.
Brignano, Russell Carl. Richard Wright: An Introduction to the Man and His Works. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970. Organized thematically.
Fabre, Michel. The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright. New York: William Morrow, 1973. The most comprehensive biography of Wright.
Felgar, Robert. Richard Wright. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Sees Bigger as a brutalized and degraded character.
Gayle, Addison. Richard Wright: Ordeal of a Native Son. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980. Uses newly discovered documents.
Kinnamon, Keneth. The Emergence of Richard Wright: A Study in Literature and Society. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972. Emphasizes the influences of Wright's social and political milieu on his literary career.
McCall, Dan. The Example of Richard Wright. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1969. Emphasizes the nightmarish elements of Native Son.
Macksey, Richard, and Frank E. Moorer, eds. Richard Wright: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1984. Includes more recent essays than other collections.
Ray, David, and Robert M. Farnsworth, eds. Richard Wright: Impressions and Perspectives. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1973. Includes letters and personal remembrances as well as critical comments.
Reilly, John M., ed. Richard Wright: The Critical Reception. New York: Burt Franklin, 1978. Compiles contemporary reviews of all Wright's books.
AUTHOR'S OTHER MAJOR WORKS
For a complete bibliography that includes Wright's poetry, short stories in magazines, essays, book reviews, prefaces to other writers' books, journalism, and correspondence, see Michel Fabre's biography.
1938 Uncle Tom's Children: Four Novellas
1940 Native Son
1941 Twelve Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States
1953 The Outsider
1954 Savage Holiday
1954 Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos
1956 The Color Curtain
1956 Pagan Spain
1957 White Man, Listen!
1958 The Long Dream
1961 Eight Men
1963 Lawd Today