Richard Wright

Richard Wright Throughout history, many talented authors writings have reflected the time period in which they lived in. Often the overall tone, and attitude of the novel is due to factors, that they have been born with, such as the environment they grew up in, who raised them, or moral ethics were instilled into their way of thinking. Richard Wright is an African-American author whose writings greatly reflected the time period in which he lived in. Native Son and Black Boy are two classic examples of Wright’s works that are profoundly influenced by the era in which he lived. Wright was born on September 4, 1908, in Natchez, Mississippi on a small farm much in the same manner that his hero, Bigger Thomas, began his life.

Deprived, poor, and segregated against, Wright spent much of his early childhood in pain, fear, and shame. He was repeatedly beaten by his mother and grandmother for trying to fight back at the segregation imposed upon him. He was also beaten by whites to whom he had to turn for jobs and he was resentful of the Jim Crow rules by which he had to live. In Black Boy, Wright’s autobiography, he recalls a familiar childhood event: “I would feel hunger nudging my ribs, twisting my empty guts until they ached. I would grow dizzy and my vision would dim.” In Black Boy, Wright used his own life to exemplify what qualities of imagination and intellect are necessary of a southern African-American in order to understand the meaning of his life in the United States.

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Black Boy also reveals it’s ‘author hero’ as a man controlled by an absolute certainty of his own virtues. The ethics of living Jim Crow require that Wright be obedient and silent. So although he was not a slave, he in essence was. He shared the same emotions as the slaves and emphasized for them. Yet everything we know about his character has prepared us to expect rebellion. Wright could not, from his earliest years, tolerate this repression, and Black Boy is the chronicle of his segregation, not only from the white society but from with his own society.

While Black Boy represents a picture of a personality corrupted by a brutal environment, it also presents natural human responses to its world by a sensitive child. The very fact that Black Boy is an autobiography of Wright’s life is in itself exemplifying how his life was reflected in his works. Wright’s life, especially his childhood apparently had a great impact on him, otherwise he would not have written a book about. Native Son, the novel that Wright is most noted for is also greatly reflected by the time in which he lived. Bigger Thomas, the hero and the protagonist of the novel, experiences escape which takes place within an urban maze that has come to be called black ghetto. In essence, Bigger’s escape has been blocked, it is destined for failure even before it begins.

Just like in Wright’s life, he has grown up in a ‘ghetto’ of Mississippi, in a society in which he attempts to rebel but is condemned for doing so. Bigger Thomas, Wright’s fictional character, is in some ways non-fictional, perhaps because Bigger’s rebellious persona is what Wright strived to be although was unable to do to factors that he could simply not overcome. Bigger is an example of the black revolt against the injustices of the white asti system, and his revolt takes the form of crime against the white society. Born into a society that is white and hostile, (just as Wright was) Bigger becomes the total embodiment of that society’s prejudices and hatreds against the black man. In a way Bigger Thomas is an autobiographical character because so much of what occurs in bigger’s life, similarly occurred in Wright’s.

Thus we see that much of Richard Wright’s works have been influenced by the time period in which he lived. Black Boy, Wright’s autobiography is the perfect embodiment of just how great his life reflected his writings. Native Son, although a fictional book, in many ways still reflected Wright’s life as a rebel. In Native Son, Wright could articulate himself, using Bigger Thomas as a fictional character to express the powerful spirit which tried to overcome the white society which oppressed him.


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