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The Literary Criticism of Richard Wright

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As an African American in the early 1900's, life in general was no walk in the park. Born September 4, 1908, Richard Nathaniel Wright was the first of two sons born to Ella Wilson, an elementary school teacher, and Nathaniel Wright, an alcoholic sharecropper, on the Rucker Plantation in Roxie Mississippi. Wandering about most of his childhood, Wright and his family travelled all over the southeast until finally resting in Jackson, Mississippi with his maternal grandmother Margaret Wilson, who was an extremely strict Seventh-day Adventist. Wright even spent a month in an orphanage while his mother was ill, after his father had deserted the family years earlier. School was easy-going for Wright up through junior high, where he was valedictorian in 1925. High school would have been a piece of cake if he had not of dropped out in order to find work to support his family and himself. Wright's childhood from birth up until then shaped his lasting impression of American racism (Wikipedia).

In 1945, Wright wrote a fictionalized memoir of his childhood and young adult life. After moving to Chicago and marrying Dhima Rose Meadman, Black Boy became an instant bestseller. Black Boy recounts Wright's childhood as a black male in the South. It expressed Wright's view on racial oppression and refutes his strict religious upbringing. As the grandson of former slaves, Wright was raised and a strict-religious home. His grandmother was a Seventh-day Adventist, who followed the Bible scripture to the letter. This autobiography begins when Wright is four years old and his mother, younger brother, and himself are living with his grandmother. It continues through his adolescent years until age twenty-one, where he was living when he wrote the novel-like memoir. At the time of his childhood, Wright was living in what was known as the "vicious Jim Crow South" (SparkNotes Editors). With racism surrounding his early life, Wright struggled to survive and support his family. After moving to Chicago in 1927, Wright's literary works became more prominent, authoring poems, essays and other works. At the time, he also joined a certain political party. As a member of the American Communist Party, a negative outlook on his book, Black Boy, made his work less popular than it was when it was first published in 1945. Since then Black Boy has been called a classic in the African-American community. Today Black Boy remains a vital work of historical, sociological, and literary significance.

Native Son was written in 1940 and tells the story of a young black man named Bigger Thomas. Living in extreme poverty, Bigger is put to work with a white family and accidently kills Mary Dolton, the daughter of his boss. As he tries to hide her remains, Bigger is conflicted with an internal struggle of right and wrong and his own identity. He is eventually caught, tried, and convicted; not just for murder, but for raping Mary Dolton as well. Native

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