Saturday, December 09, 2006

Modern Relevance of Richard Wright’s Universality: What We Can Learn from a Black Boy

Richard Wright, an African American product of the Jim Crow south, managed to transform himself into a global citizen in that, since the initial publication of his autobiography, Black Boy (American Hunger) A Record of Childhood and Youth, people in many places have been able to identify with the themes prevalent in his life and work, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. However, not so much has changed about the human psyche in the 21st century that our post 911 world couldn’t benefit from the wisdom in his work, and his foresight and ability to see and travel beyond our obvious, perhaps not so obvious social and/or prejudicial boundaries. Although the social boundaries that severely encumbered the American dream for African Americans, including Wright, have been (tongue-in-cheek) all but eliminated, many, both black and white have become so entranced in achieving that dream through rose-colored consumerism, failing to recognize the incarcerating effect of debt, and the social consequences of living in a capitalist society. In a world where there should be no poverty, illiteracy or fatal differences because of religion or ethnicity, we must begin to understand how these issues create boundaries for all of us. Rather than temporary, feel-good solutions, like Wright, we must continue to look for ways to “alter” our “relationship” to our “environment” and essentially alter our world (Wright 200). In the introduction to Black Boy (American Hunger) A Record of Childhood and Youth, Jerry W. Ward, Jr. explains that Wright wanted to present not merely “a representative myth of growing up Southern”, but “an American story which speaks to “the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human” (Ward xiii). If we are listening, then from Richard Wright’s humble and severe beginnings on a Mississippi plantation, his ineffable yearning to disrupt the cycle of poverty through literacy, and his understanding of literature as a vehicle for social change, we should be able to formulate a renewed empathy for many who, even now, still suffer from long-standing social problems in a modern and complex world.


At 5:53 PM , Blogger BLUE said...

Richard Wright is simply timeless. One of my goals in the next ten years is to make it to Paris to visit his gravesite. I have enjoyed like mad his haiku collection that his daughter released after his death. Amazing! Not too many other writers of Wright's time have been so skilled at both fiction and poetics. Wonder if we can trudge up how/why he died again without getting "watched" too much. Mysterious illnesses always make me turn cockeyed in search of the truth.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home