The autobiographical account of Richard Wright's life ends in "American Hunger" the sequel novel to "Black Boy" when Richard finally realizes the incredible power that his words will ever have. He decides that he will use his words as weapons, appealing to the humanistic and emotional qualities in man and society. As a young man living in Memphis, Tennessee, Wright began an intense reading period in which he became familiar with a wide range of authors, many of them contemporary American authors. Of that period in his life he wrote: Reading was like a drug, a dope. The novels created moods in which I lived for days
Despite the violent and depressing images presented in "Black Boy", Wright himself seems to have shed his cynicism, ending with a note of hope. The song he quotes "Arise, you wretched of the earths a better world's in birth" expresses his new substantial belief that ever, society will rise above its ills and prejudices. Wright even shows his optimism by shedding the images of childhood and of the brutal South: "The days of my youth, were receding from me like a rolling tide, leaving me alone high, dry ground, leaving me with a quitter and deeper consciousness . "
Wright's ranking first in the postal service examination in Chicago in 1937 bought an offer of permanent position at 2,000 dollars a year. But he turns the offer down to move to New York city to pursue a career as a writer. He attends the Second American Writer's Congress as a delegate even serving as a session president. It was here that he stressed that writers should think of themselves as writers first and not as laborors.He becomes the Harlem editor of the Communist newspaper Daily Worker for which he writes 200 articles during the year. He also helps launch the magazine New Challenge designed to present black life "in relationship to the struggle against war and Fascism."
He now tries to sharpen his conception of literary form and seeks to work out the relationship between the techniques of fiction and the tenets of Marxism. To achieve this, he publishes his important essay, "Blueprint for Negro Writing" in the November issue of New Challenge as his own attempt to outlining a literary theory for black American writers. Blueprint was like a manifesto and declaration of independence from what he judged to be bourgeois literary forms and agendas long dominant in black letters. Distancing himself from the writings of the Harlem Renaissance, Wright urges black writers to embrace a Marxist conception of reality and society which offers in his judgment the "maximum degree of freedom in thought and feeling … for the Negro writer" that would even transcend nationalism.
Wright executed his own blueprint in his short story collection, Uncle Tom's Children a collection of four stories set in the Jim Crow South with which he launched his literary career. The stories although often flawed by Marxist propagandizing, melodrama, ponderous didactism and improbable plots show some of the major influences on his fiction which includes: naturalism, Marxism, freudianism and the black folk tradition with which he had a love-hate relationship lasting through his career. Wright gained national attention for this collection which fictionalized the incidents of lynching in the Deep South. One of the stories there "Fire and Cloud" won the O'Henry Memorial award in 1938. The whole collection won first prize for the Story magazine contest open to Federal Writer's Project authors for best book-length manuscript. Harper's published the collection with "Fire and Cloud," "Long Black Song," "Down by the Riverside," and "Big Boy Leaves Home"; in 1940 the story "Bright and Morning Star" was added, and the book was reissued.The collection earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship, which allowed him to complete his first novel, Native Son (1940).
After Uncle Tom's Children, Wright declared in "How Bigger Was Born" that he needed to write a book that bankers' daughters would not be able to "read and feel good about," that would "be so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consensus of tears "; That novel was a Native Son which followed in 1940. Native Son was uncompromisingly honest and unsparing in its depiction of the roughness and cruelties of black life.It contained extremitudes of violence and horror which are not likely to inspire anything but fear and clearly enough Wright titled the first of the book's three parts FEAR. Many white Americans saw Bigger Thomas, the central character as a symbol of the entire black community. Wright who is himself an avid filmgoer wanting to give the story a sense of immediacy and closeness, told the story in the present as he 'wanted the reader to feel that Bigger's story was now now, like a play upon a stage or a movie. .. "
This young black man, Bigger Thomas lives in a one-room apartment in Chicago's South Side Black Belt with his mother, his younger sister, Vera, and younger brother, Buddy. Bigger in time gets employed by the Daltons, a wealthy white family, as their chauffeur. The rat-infested building in which Bigger his mother, his brother and his sister is owned by Mr Dalton who instead of maintaining and letting out decent homes prefers to cover up his sins by giving out money for social welfare. The Dalton's liberal-minded daughter, Mary, befriends Bigger as he drives her and she leads him to drive her under an oat of confidentiality to the Communist headquarters where they pick her boyfriend, Jan Erlone and go out for a treat. Having taken too much drink, Mary gets stone drunk so much so that Bigger had to carry her bodily into her room. He was on the process of laying her properly down on the bed when he heard the approaching footsteps of her blind mother. He got frightened of the dire contradictions he might face for being with Mary in the room. So he covered her up with clothes and shielded her mouth with a pillow in the process, smothering her to death. In a further display of panic he burns the body, decapitates and cremates it in the basement chimney where he hopes discovery will be impossible. He furthermore deflects suspicion from himself by trying to implicate Jan, since his being a communist he could readily be accepted as the bad guy capable of doing such evil and heartless acts. He feels so invigorated by what he has done that he tries to extort money from the wealthy Daltons. When that fails and Mary's bones are discovered, he murders his own black girlfriend, Bessie, in a further but vain attempt to cover uip his tracks. He is soon captured and defined in prison awaiting trial. It was there that Bigger feels for the first time a sense of freedom: "Seems sort of natural-like, me being here facing that death chair. He is then condemned to death and faces his destiny unrepentantly. Yet in prison, he comes to terms with the need for a common brotherhood.
The day this novel considered Wright's most monumental fictional achievement appeared, Irving Howe declared "American culture was changed forever. It became an instant bestseller selling out within hours in some bookstores and selling 215,000 copies in its first three weeks of publication. as a major twenty century writer.
Native Son made Wright the most respected and wealthiest black writer in America. It was the first bestselling novel by a black American writer and the first Book-of-the-Month Club selection by an African-American writer.He was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's prestigious Spingarn Medal in 1941.
The novel also marked a high point in the history of the Negro novel not only because it is a work of art in its own right but because it influenced a whole generation of Negro novelists. Its mix of urban realism, sociological theory and naturalistic determination helped to define and influence almost the entire sweep of African-American fiction of the post-World-War 11 era.
The lead character, Bigger Thomas, served to represent the limitations that society placed on African Americans, and illustrated that Thomas could only gain his own agency and self-knowledge by committing heinous acts. Wright was criticized for both works 'concentration on violence, and, in the case of Native Son, for portraying a black person in ways which might seem to confirm whites' worst fears. For many white Americans saw Bigger Thomas as a symbol of the entire black race.
Wright is also renamed for the autobiographical Black Boy (1945), which describes his early life from Roxie through his move to Chicago, his conflicts with his seventh-day Adventist family, his troubles with white employers and social isolation. American Hunger, (published posthumously in 1977) was originally intended as the second book of Black Boy and is restored to this form in the Library of America edition.
This book details his involvement with the John Reed Clubs and the Communist Party, which he left in 1942, although the book implies that it was earlier, and his leaving was not made public until 1944. In its restored form, its diptych structure mirrors the certificates and intolerance of organized communism, (the "bourgeois" books to McCarthyism, Wright was blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studio executives in the 1950s.
The later section about his life in Chicago and experience with the Communist party was not published until 1977 under the title American Hunger. Wright's publishers in 1945 had only wanted the story of his life in the South and cut what followed his life in the North. There have been numerous biographies of Wright, but all must begin with Black Boy, Wright's personal and emotional account of his childhood and adolescence in the Jim Crow South. In a famous passage in the autobiography that has bothered critics and set Wright apart from the African-American sense of community, he asserts the "cultural barrenness of black life": "… I used to mull over the strange absence of real kindness in Negroes, how unstable was our tenderness, how lacking in genuine passion we were, how void of great hope, how timid our joy, how bare our traditions, how hollow our memories, how lacking we were in those intangible sentiments that bind man to man, and how shallow was even our despair. " He found an "unconscious irony" in the idea that "Negroes led so passionate an existence": "I saw that what had been taken for our emotional strength was our negative confusions, our flights, our fears, our frenzy under pressure." Statements like these are disputed by others that describe a caring community. For example, when Wright's mother suffers a paralytic stroke, "the neighbors nursed my mother day and night, fed us and washed our clothes," and Wright admits to being "ashamed so so often in my life I had to be fed by strangers. "