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- 2 Unsourced
- 3 On Richard Wright
- 4 External links
Native Son (1940)
- Harper & Row publishers
- The more closely the author thinks of why he wrote, the more he comes to regard his imagination as a kind of self-generating cement which glued his facts together, and his emotions as a kind of dark and obscure designer of those facts.
- p. vii
- But the moment he makes the attempt his words falter, for he is confronted and defied by the inexplicable array of his own emotions. Emotions are subjective and he can communicate them only when he clothes them in objective guise; and how can he ever be so arrogant as to know when he is dressing up the right emotion in the right Sunday suit?
- p. viii
- But, because the blacks were so close to the very civilization which sought to keep them out, because they could not help but react in some way to its incentives and prizes, and because the very tissue of their consciousness received its tone and timbre from the strivings of that dominant civilization, oppression spawned among them a myriad variety of reactions, reaching from outright blind rebellion to sweet, other-worldly submissiveness.
- p. xii
- I sensed, too, that the Southern scheme of oppression was but an appendage of a far vaster and in many respects more ruthless and impersonal commodity-profit machine.
- pg. xv
- It was this intolerable sense of feeling and understanding so much, and yet living on a plane of social reality where the look of a world which one did not make or own struck one with a blinding objectivity and tangibility, that made me grasp the revolutionary impulse in my life and the lives of those about me and far away.
- pg. xvii
- But he is product of a dislocated society; he is a dispossessed and disinherited man; he is all of this, and he lives amid the greatest possible plenty on earth and he is looking and feeling for a way out.
- pg. xx
- And in a boy like Bigger, young, unschooled, whose subjective life was clothed in the tattered rags of American "culture," this primitive fear and ecstasy were naked, exposed, unprotected by religion or a framework of government or a scheme of society whose final faiths would gain his love and trust; unprotected by trade or profession, faith or belief; opened to every trivial blast of daily or hourly circumstance.
- pg. xxv
- I found that I had written a book which even bankers' daughters could read and weep over and feel good about. I swore to myself that if I every wrote another book, no one would weep over it; that it would be so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consolation of tears.
- p. xxvii
- And then, while writing, a new and thrilling relationship would spring up under the drive emotion, coalescing and telescoping alien facts into a known and felt truth. That was the deep fun of the job; to feel within my body that I was pushing out to new areas of feeling, strange landmarks of emotion, tramping upon foreign soil, compounding new relationships of perceptions, making new and - until that very split second of time! - unheard-of and unfelt effects with words.
- p. xxx
- I don't know if Native Son is a good book or a bad book. And I don't know if the book I'm working on now will be a good book or a bad book. And I really don't care. The mere writing of it will be more fun and a deeper satisfaction than any praise or blame from anybody. I feel that I'm lucky to be alive to write novels today, when the whole world is caught in the pangs of war and change.
- pg. xxxiv
- "And still when the delicate and unconscious machinery of race relations slips, there will be murder again. How can law contradict the lives of millions of people and hope to be administered successfully?"
- pg. 361
- "Injustice which lasts for three long centuries and which exists among millions of people over thousands of square miles of territory, is injustice no longer; it is an accomplished fact of life. Men adjust themselves to their land; they create their own laws of being; their notions of right and wrong.
- pg. 360
- Written in 1943
- 'If laying down my life could stop the suffering in the world I'd do it. But I don't believe anything can stop it,' I told him. He heard me but he did not speak. I wanted to say more to him, but I knew that it would have been useless. Though older than I, he had neither known nor felt anything of life for himself; he had been carefully reared by his mother and father and he had always been told what to feel.
- All my life I have done nothing but feel and cultivate my feelings; all their lives they had done nothing but strive for petty goals, the trivial material prizes of American life. We shared a common tongue, but my language was a different language from theirs.
- This business of saving souls had not ethics; every human relationship was shamelessly exploited. In essence, the tribe was asking us whether we shared its feelings; if we refused to join the church, it was equivalent to saying no, to placing ourselves in the position of moral monsters.
White Man, Listen! (1957)
- I'm a rootless man, but I'm neither psychologically distraught nor in any wise particularly perturbed because of it. Personally, I do not hanker after, and seem not to need, as many emotional attachments, sustaining roots, or idealistic allegiances as most people. I declare unabashedly that I like and even cherish the state of abandonment, of aloneness; it does not bother me; indeed, to me it seems the natural, inevitable condition of man, and I welcome it. I can make myself at home almost anywhere on this earth and can, if I've a mind to and when I'm attracted to a landscape or a mood of life, easily sink myself into the most alien and widely differing environments.
- I declare unabashedly that I like and even cherish the state of abandonment, of aloneness; ... it seems the natural, inevitable condition of man, and I welcome it ... I've been shaped to this mental stance by the kind of experience I have fallen heir to.
- How can the spirit of the Enlightenment and the Reformation be extended now to all men?
- [As] the tide of white domination of the land mass of Asia and Africa recedes, there lies exposed to view a procession of shattered cultures, disintegrated societies, and a writhing sweep of more aggressive, irrational religion than the world has known for centuries.
- What vision must Negro writers have before their eyes in order to feel the impelling necessity for an about face? What angle of vision can show them all the forces of modern society in process, all the lines of economic development converging toward a distant point of hope? Must they believe in some `ism'? ("Blueprint" 45)
- Perspective is that part of a poem, novel, or play which a writer never puts directly upon paper. It is that fixed point in intellectual space where a writer stands to view the struggles, hopes, and sufferings of his people. There are times when he may stand too close and the result is a blurred vision. Or he may stand too far away and the result is a neglect of important things.
- I must confess that this is no personal achievement of mine; this attitude was never striven for. . . . [ellipsis is in original, unabridged text] I've been shaped to this mental stance by the kind of experiences that I have fallen heir to. I say this neither in a tone of apology nor to persuade the reader in my ideological direction, but to give him a hinting clue as to why certain ideas and values appeal to me more than others, and why certain perspectives are stressed in these speeches.
American Hunger (1977)
- Originally written in 1943
- I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.
- p. 77
Black Boy (American Hunger) (1991)
- A republication of both Black Boy (1945) and American Hunger (1977) by Perennial Classics
- As a protective mechanism, I developed a terse, cynical mode of speech that rebuffed those who sought to get too close to me. Conversation was my way of avoiding expression; my words were reserved for those times when I sat down alone to write. My face was always a deadpan or a mask of general friendliness; no word or event could jar me into a gesture of enthusiasm or despair.
- p. 278
- My ability to endure tension had now grown amazingly. From the accidental pain of southern years, from anxiety that I had sought to avoid, from fear that had been too painful to bear, I had learned to like my unintermittent burden of feeling, had become habituated to acting with all of my being, had learned to seek those areas of life, those situations, where I knew that events would complement my own inner mood. I was conscious of what was happening to me; I knew that my attitude of watchful wonder had usurped all other feelings, had become the meaning of my life, an integral part of my personality; that I was striving to live and measure all things by it. Having no claims upon others, I bent the way the wind blew, rendering unto my environment that which was my environment's, and rendering unto myself that which I felt was mine. It was a dangerous way to live, far more dangerous than violating laws or ethical codes of conduct; but the danger was for me and me alone.
- p. 282
The Long Dream (1958)
- "And, curiously, he felt that he was something, somebody, precisely and simply because of that cold threat of death. The terror of the white world had left no doubt in him about his worth; in fact, that white world had guaranteed his worth in the most brutal and dramatic manner. Most surely he was was something, in the eyes of the white world, or it would not have threatened him as it had. That white world, then, threatened as much as it beckoned. Though he did not know it, he was fatally in love with that white world, in love in a way that could never be cured. That white world's attempt to curb him dangerously and irresponsibly claimed him for its own."
- “He had fled a world that he had known and that had emotionally crucified him, but what was he here in this world whose impact loosed storms in his blood? Could he ever make the white faces around him understand how they had charged his world with images of beckoning desire and dread? Naw, naw…No one could believe the kind of life he had lived and was living.
- .... Above all, he was ashamed of his world, for the world about him had branded his world as bad, inferior. Moreover, he felt no moral strength or compulsion to defend his world. That in him which had always made him self-conscious was now the bud of a new possible life that was pressing ardently but timidly against the shell of the old to shatter it and be free."
The Color Curtain (1956)
- "I'm an American Negro; as such, I've had a burden of race consciousness. So have these people. I worked in my youth as a common laborer, and I've had a class consciousness. So have these people. I grew up in the Methodist and Seventh Day Adventist churches and I saw and observed religion in my childhood; and these people are religious. I was a member of the Communist Party for twelve years and I know something of the politics and psychology of rebellion.... These emotions are my instruments.... I want to try to use these emotions to try to find out what these people feel and think and why."
- "The despised, the insulted, the hurt, the dispossessed—in short, the underdogs of the human race were meeting. Here were class and racial and religious consciousness on a global scale. Who had thought of organizing such a meeting? And what had these nations in common? Nothing, it seemed to me, but what their past relationship to the Western world had made them feel. This meeting of the rejected was in itself a kind of judgment upon the Western world!"
Haiku: This Other World (1998)
- I am nobody:
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away.
- I give permission
For this slow spring rain to soak
The violet beds.
- With a twitching nose
A dog reads a telegram
On a wet tree trunk.
- Burning autumn leaves,
I yearn to make the bonfire
Bigger and bigger.
- A sleepless spring night:
Yearning for what I never had
And for what never was.
- In a drizzling rain,
In a flower shop’s doorway,
A girl sells herself
- A slow autumn rain:
The sad eyes of my mother
Fill a lonely night.
Eight Men (1961)
- The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.... To articulate the past historically ... means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger.
- A man who worships in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church lives,psychologically, in a burning and continuous moment that never ends: the present is ever-lasting; the past is telescoped into the now; there is no future and at any moment Christ may come again and then the anxious tension of time will be no more.... [My grandmother] lived with all of us, yet, psychologically, she hovered somewhere off in space.... Always she seemed to be peeping out of Heaven into the world while living in the world.
- He did not feel that he was stealing, for the cleaver, the radio, the money, and the typewriter were all on the same level of value, all meant the same thing to him. They were the serious toys of the men who lived in the dead world of sunshine and rain he had left, the world that had condemned him, branded him guilty.
- Maybe anything's right, he mumbled. Yes, if the world as men had made it was right, then anything else was right, any act a man took to satisfy himself, murder, theft, torture.He straightened with a start. What was happening to him? ... He was going to do something, but what? Yes, he was afraid of himself, afraid of doing some nameless thing.
- He would go there and clear up everything, make a statement. What statement? He did not know. He was the statement, and since it was all so clear to him, surely he would be able to make it clear to others.
The Outsider (1953)
- “Where could he find such experiences, such spheres of existence? In the main, he accepted the kind of world that the Bible claimed existed; but, for the sufferings, terrors, accidental births, and meaningless deaths of that world, he rejected the Biblical prescriptions of repentance, prayer, faith and grace. He was persuaded that what started on this earth had to be rounded off and somehow finished here.”
- "The moment we act as if it's true, then it's true."
- "Negroes, as they enter our culture, are going to inherit the problems we have, but with a difference. They are outsiders and they are going to know that they have these problems. They are going to be self‑conscious; they are going to be gifted with a double vision, for, being Negroes, they are going to be both inside and outside of our culture at the same time. Every emotional and cultural convulsion that ever shook the heart and soul of Western man will shake them. Negroes will develop unique and specially defined psychological types. They will become psychological men, like the Jews . . . They will not only be Americans or Negroes; they will be centers of knowing, so to speak . . . The political, social, and psychological consequences of this will be enormous . . ."
- "Oh, Christ their disease had reached out and claimed him too. He had been subverted by the contagion of the lawless; he had been defeated by that which he had sought to destroy."
- "Don't think I'm so odd and strange ... I'm not.... I'm legion ... I've lived alone, but I'm everywhere."
- "Nothing.... Alone a man is nothing.....I wish I had some way to give the meaning of my life to others.... To make a bridge from man to man.... We must find some way of being good to ourselves.... Man is all we've got."
- "You are your own law, so you'll be your own judge."
- It has been only through books... that I had managed to keep myself alive.
- People say good things come to those who wait, well I've waited 16 years and now it seems too late.
- Living in the past with regret is like killing yourself on the inside and throwing them to darkness.
- The artist must bow to the monster of his own imagination.
- Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread.Native Son Pg. 399
- I have no religion in the formal sense of the word .... I have no race except that which is forced upon me. I have no country except that to which I'm obliged to belong. I have no traditions. I'm free. I have only the future.
- As a rule, memories fade with the passage of time, instead of remembering with specificity but providing no dates or times as backup. It was the first time, to our knowledge, these things have ever been said.
- Don't leave inferences to be drawn when evidence can be presented.
- Panting, begging I clutched childlike, clutched to the hot sides of death. Now I am dry bones and my face a stony skull staring in yellow surprise at the sun. . . .
- Nobody has any confidence. Nobody wants to buy anything and if they do buy anything they're wrong within about 10 minutes. It's fairly gloomy.
On Richard Wright
- Richard went to Paris in 1946, when I was 22, he was 38. Now, it took me a long time; I had to get to be much older to realize something. I didn't realize it that day at all. I was not born in Mississippi; I was born in New York. And I did not leave Mississippi to go to Chicago. And endure all that. I was much too young to realize what I was looking at really. But, that's a journey. To go from Mississippi to Chicago to New York to Paris in 38 years is amazing. You might as well have walked all that distance, it's almost that remarkable.
- James Baldwin at Yale University (2 November 1983)
- He came like a sledgehammer, like a giant out of the mountain with a sledgehammer, writing with a sledgehammer...
- Historian John Henrik Clarke
- Richard Wright’s outstanding characteristics are two seemingly opposite tendencies. One is an overwhelming need for association and integration with humanity at large. The other is a tragic, highly individualized loneliness. Except that he is a Negro in 20th century America he might have been a lyric poet. Whenever he describes the life he wants for mankind he rises to great heights of lyric beauty. At the same time when he doubts that a new life can ever be achieved he writes with the same beauty but in tragic despair. Wright wants a new world; men working freely together in social relationships that not only realize a complete personality but develop every potential and result in new associations and new men altogether. He wants to share a common life, not in a regimented sense but in a free interchange of ideas and experience; a relationship which will be the blending of a common belief and a solidarity of ideals. He wants a life in which basic emotions are shared; in which common memory forms a common past; in which collective hope reflects a national future. He has a vision of life where man can reveal his destiny as man by grappling with the world and getting from it the satisfactions he feels he must have. He wants a life where man’s inmost nature and emotional capacities will be used. He has a passionate longing to belong, to be identified with the world at large; he wants the "deep satisfaction of doing a good job in common with others." He doesn’t want a society where he is separate as Negro, but one where he is just another man.
- Constance Webb, "Notes preliminary to a full study of the work of Richard Wright" (privately published, 1946)
- So far only Wright has positively revealed the state of mind of a people bursting with energy, untroubled by feudal remains or a feudal past, soaked to the bone in traditions of individual freedom and free association—traditions constantly held before them as the basis of their civilization, yet utterly unrealized in the face of automation and the threat of atomic annihilation.
- Constance Webb, in Richard Wright: A Biography (1968)
- Kierkegaard is one of the great writers of today. He is one of the men who, during the last twenty or thirty years, modern civilization has recognized as a man whose writings express the modern temperament and the modern personality. And Dick assured me that he was reading Kierkegaard because everything he read in Kierkegaard he had known before. What he was telling me was that he was a black man in the United States and that gave him an insight into what today is the universal opinion and attitude of the modern personality. I believe that is a matter that is not only black studies, but is white studies too. I believe that that is some form of study which is open to any university: Federal City College, Harvard, etc. It is not an ethnic matter. I knew Wright well enough to know that he meant it. I didn’t ask him much because I thought he meant me to understand something. And I understood it. I didn’t have to ask him about that. What there was in Dick’s life, what there was in the experience of a black man in the United States in the 1930s that made him understand everything that Kierkegaard had written before he had read it and the things that made Kierkegaard the famous writer that he is today? That is something that I believe has to be studied.
- C.L.R. James, "Black Studies and the Contemporary Student" (1969)
- Profile at The Mississippi Writers Page
- "Richard Wright - Black Boy" at ITVS
- "Richard N. Wright - Black Boy"
- Richard Wright's Photo & Gravesite
- "Cornel West'S Evasion of Philosophy, or, Richard Wright'S Revenge" by Ralph Dumain
- "Richard Wright: In a Class by Himself" review by Ralph Dumain
- "Richard Wright Defines The Outsider"
- "Richard Wright's White Man, Listen!" by Ralph Dumain
- Biography of Wright and his works
- Native Son quotes analyzed; learning guide & teacher resources