Essay, Research Paper: Native Son By Right

Literature: Steinbeck

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The Childhood, Education and Achievements of Richard Wright Richard Wright was
the son of an illiterate sharecropper. He was brought up in a dysfunctional home
where he suffered poverty and abandonment. He became an essential figure in the
development of African American literature, and has been called one of the most
powerful writers of the twentieth century. Although Richard Wright experienced a
poverty-stricken childhood, he managed to gain a partial education and finally,
achieved recognition as a great protest writer. Richard Wright suffered a
poverty-stricken childhood. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father worked
as a sharecropper until Wright was three, when the family moved to Memphis,
Tennessee. Wright and his younger brother hungered for affection, understanding,
and attention, as well as for food. They would comb their neighborhood begging
for food and money to help his family survive. Wright was also forced to steal
in order to eat. Critics say that Wright’s behavior was as a result of his
father’s abandonment. At the age of five or six, Richard’s father deserted
the family, making them victims of extreme poverty. Soon after, his mother
suffered paralytic strokes that left her dependant on her own mother. She was
forced to put Richard and his brother into an orphanage. After being sexually
molested in the orphanage, Richard ran away but he eventually had to return
until his mother returned for them. His mother’s illness added more stress to
his tumultuous childhood because he was forced to discontinue his education at a
premature age and work to help his family survive. Richard worked many odd jobs
in places that were unsuitable for a child his age. He worked in saloons,
brothels, and even as a scavenger. His jobs in the South were marked by
harassment by whites and his own disdain for what segregation and racism had
done to his family. He felt that his family was forced to accept poverty. He
resolved to migrate to the North, to Chicago in 1927 at the age of nineteen and
found a job as a postal clerk. This was his third move in nineteen years (Wertham
321-325). He went to live at his uncle’s house and it was there that he had
his first encounter with racial hatred and violence. He witnessed the murder of
his uncle by a group of white men trying to seize his property. Fearing for
their lives, they had no choice but to move again. Richard was sent to his
grandmother’s home in Jackson at the age of eight. His grandmother was a
devout Seventh Day Adventist and a stern disciplinarian who according to Arnold
Rampersad, tried to crush Wright’s childhood interest in the world of
imagination. Eventually, Richard left his grandmother’s home and continued
shuttling between relatives (Rampersad 11). Richard was unable to complete his
education. It is very uncharacteristic for someone with such little formal
education to become such a renowned writer, but Richard Wright was an exception
to the rule. Despite not finishing high school, Richard decided that he would
educate himself. He would go to the library and forge a white person’s name in
order to get books out. He read constantly in his spare time while he continued
to work to help take care of his ailing mother. When Richard’s came out of the
orphanage, he had to adopt the position as provider and caretaker of his mother
and little brother. Richard resented his mother putting him into an orphanage
and in his eyes she became an embodiment of passivity and victimization. The
only thing that kept Richard happy was the long hours he spent reading the books
that he illegally took out of the library. As provider for his family,
Richard’s responsibilities were overwhelming, and even though he was only a
boy he still did what he had to do for his family (Margolies 65-86). According
to Richard’s classmates at Jackson’s Smith-Robertson School, he always had
his head in a book. It seems fitting that after he was forced to leave high
school, he continued to educate himself. He resolved to migrate to the north, to
Chicago in 1927 at the age of nineteen and found a job as a postal clerk. At
this period he also became interested in communism and joined the Communist
Party. He was also encouraged to write from the Communist Party. He seemed to
have inbred literary skills despite of his lack of schooling. Writing became
Richard’s passion and it was something he still continued to do even after he
left the Party (Clark 12-15). It was stated that Richard Wright developed his
fascination with the power of words at an early age. He was one of those boys
who did not have to push themselves to do well in school; reading and writing
seemed to come naturally to him. He was a constant student throughout his school
years, and he always earned good grades and good reports from his teachers and
his peers. In the ninth grade he graduated class valedictorian and obviously he
wrote his own speech. Richard Wright became a renowned protest writer. He
changed the face of American literature with works such as Black Boy, his
autobiography, and Native Son. His work chronicles both the cruelties of racial
attitudes among whites and what Wright calls the “negative confusions” of
the black community. By the time of his sudden death in 1960 at the age of 52,
Wright had irrevocably changed the principles governing African –American
writing and left an indelible mark on the American imagination (Kinnamon
118-152). Wright’s earliest writings came at the age of fifteen when he
published a short story in the local newspaper. His family did not support his
writing because they believed it to be satanic. Wright was not thwarted by their
reaction and he went on to write other short stories and poetry. It is said that
write was a poet before he became a writer. He left Chicago in 1937 for New York
where “he could get published,” according to Margaret Walker Alexander. His
autobiography, Black Boy, was published in 1945. The work was acclaimed by a
number of noted individuals, and by March that year, Black Boy had sold over
four hundred thousand copies. Black Boy became a runaway best seller, aided by a
major photo spread in Life magazine. When asked why he wrote Black Boy, a
harrowing account of his Southern childhood, Wright replied that he wanted to
give “tongue to voiceless Negro Boys” (Clark 12-15). However, it was Native
Son (published in 1940) that won Wright critical and public acclaim. The book
sold over two hundred thousand copies in less than a month and soared to the top
of the best seller’s list. It became the first book by an African –American
author to be a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Wright was being compared to
famous writers such as Theodore Dreiser and John Steinbeck. He received the
Springarn Medal in the early 1940s after which he began to write the
autobiographical account of his childhood. Wright changed the principles
governing African-American writing. His books, Native Son and Black Boy,
continue to be used in high school and colleges throughout America. He has
influenced many upcoming writers, as well as many upcoming African-Americans.

Clarke, John. “Richard Wright- Black Boy.” Independent Television Service
(ITVS). Online, Internet. 4 Feb. 2000. Wertham, Frederic. Psychoanalysis and
Literature. New York: Dutlon, 1964. Margolies, Edward. A Critical Study of 20th
Century Negro American Authors. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1968. Kinnamon, Keneth.
A Study in Literature and Society. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1972.
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