Tag Archives: Richard Wright

It used to be…

Invisible Man Chapter 7

Kicked out of college, our narrator climbs on a bus headed north.  A travel companion turns out to be the doctor veteran from The Golden Day.  It’s this institutionalized man whose words connect the literary dots between Invisible Man and another classic novel.

Connecting the Literary Dots

“Yes, I know,” the vet said, “but think of what this means for the young fellow.  He’s going free, in the broad daylight and alone.  I can remember when young fellows like him had first to commit a crime, or be accused of one, before they tried such a thing.  Instead of leaving in the light of morning, they went in the dark of night.”

Native Son, anyone?

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Posted by on December 22, 2013 in Invisible Man


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Ras the who?

invisible-man-by-ralph-ellisonOnly a few pages into Ellison’s work, I read the name “Ras the Destroyer”.

Ras the Destroyer?  Is that someone from mythology?  someone from Shakespeare?  Beowulf?
Thinking I should fill this gap in my knowledge base, I googled him.

Cliff’s Notes says: The character of Ras is reminiscent of Bigger Thomas, the protagonist of Richard Wright’s Native Son, often referred to as the ultimate protest novel. 

Ahhh.  Now it makes sense.  Ellison was trained as a musician, but “a visit to New York and a meeting with Richard Wright led to his (Ellison’s) first attempts at fiction.”    Remember that it was Wright and his writing that prompted Ellison to pick up the pen.

We will formally meet the character named Ras later in the tale.
Ras, who?  Ras the Destroyer.  Ras the Exhorter.
Either way, when we finally are introduced I’ll be thinking of Bigger.



Posted by on December 4, 2013 in Invisible Man


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One big happy family

Almost as interesting as the literary connections we’re making on this classical journey are the ties between authors.  It’s almost as if they are one big happy family.  Well, more of a dysfunctional family, but you get the idea.

There was the friendship of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne that resulted in Moby-Dick being dedicated to The Scarlet Letter‘s author.

Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain were neighbors.

Now thanks to the intro of Invisible Man, I learned that Ralph Ellison tried his hand at writing all thanks to Richard Wright of Native Son fame.

Imagine all of our WEM authors sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner together.  I can hear the table talk now.


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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Invisible Man


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Heavy Laden

Are these daily literary connection posts feeling burdensome?  That’s what I was going for, all in order to lead up to this last one.


You remember them from Pilgrim’s Progress, right? Now I realize not every single use of the word burden is a direct reference to Bunyan’s work.  But it wasn’t just the word.  It was the picture of Bigger lugging the trunk containing Mary’s body and the freedom he experienced when discovering a way to unload it.  He later uses the word in his description.

. . . now that he had killed Mary he felt a lessening of tension in his muscles; he had shed an invisible burden he had long carried.

His mother also has a burden, a “heavy and delicately balanced” one that she “did not want to assume by disturbing it one whit.”

Maybe I’ve just felt too great of a burden in finding literary connections to assume that Richard Wright was harkening back to Paul, er I mean John Bunyan (although, do you think there are any connections between Bigger, and the north’s massive lumberjack?)  I think they’re legit, though.  Were there others?

I don’t want you to feel burdened to answer, but . . .


Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Native Son, Pilgrim's Progress


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I had so much fun finding yesterday’s literary connection that I found one, or two, or maybe three more.

Today’s is brought to you by Charlotte Brontë.  I know, not your first guess of authors to be buddying up to Richard Wright, but here it is:

Then their eyes were riveted; a slate-colored pigeon swooped down to the middle of the steel car tracks and began strutting to and fro with ruffled feathers, its fat neck bobbing with regal pride.  A street car rumbled forward and the pigeon rose swiftly through the air on wings stretched so taut and sheer that Bigger could see the gold of the sun through their translucent tips.  He tilted his head and watched the slate-colored bird flap and wheel out of sight over the edge of a high roof.
“Now, if I could only do that,” Bigger said . . .

Doesn’t that sound like our good friend Jane Eyre?  Okay, fine, Jane was adamant that she was not a bird.

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.

But I’m pretty sure both of them were going for that whole “free flying” thing, so I’m still counting it on my list of connections.  Oh, and here’s an interesting essay about the bird imagery in Jane Eyre if your own wings want to carry you back to the good old days of pleasant reads.

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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Jane Eyre, Native Son


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Where’s Bessie?

If Wright’s word-picture of Bessie’s murder wasn’t graphic enough, in Book III, Detective Buckley brings her mangled body back into the story.  We learn that she wasn’t dead when Bigger tossed her down the airshaft; she froze to death trying to escape.


It isn’t just Buckley that brings Bessie back into the story.  The prosecution actually put her body on display in the courtroom as evidence.  It’s almost unbelievable that this would happen.  Can you imagine a corpse labeled “exhibit A”?


They were bringing Bessie’s body in now to make the white men and women feel that nothing short of a quick blotting out of his life would make the city safe again.  They were using his having killed Bessie to kill him for his having killed Mary, to cast him in a light that would sanction any action taken to destroy him.

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Posted by on September 13, 2013 in Native Son


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Book II

Bessie suspects Bigger has murdered Mary Dalton.  Bigger threatens to kill Bessie if she won’t help him.

“You already in it” he said.  “You got part of the money.”
“I reckon it don’t make no difference,” she sighed.
“It’ll be easy.”
“It won’t.  I’ll get caught.  But it don’t make no difference.  I’m lost anyhow.  I was lost when I took up with you.  I’m lost and it don’t matter…”

This scene gave me déjà vu.  It could have been Oliver Twist’s Nancy saying those words to her lover Bill Sikes.

Remember this scene from Dickens’ story?  Just another instance of déjà vu.
Except without the remorse.  Who’d have thought that Sikes had a redeeming quality?  He actually felt guilt for the murder he committed.


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Posted by on September 6, 2013 in Native Son


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Next time?

Book II

But of the whole business there was one angle that bothered him; he should have gotten more money out of it; he should have planned it.  He had acted too hastily and accidentally.  Next time things would be much different; he would plan and arrange so that he would have money enough to keep him a long time.

Next time?
Next time!

He’s just committed a crime, and he’s already planning the next one?
I’m finding it difficult to sympathize with Bigger when he says this.

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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Native Son


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I Have a Question

On this, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I can’t help but wonder a few things.  Things like –

  • What would Richard Wright think about the March on Washington?
  • Doesn’t it seem like Wright had a nightmare in constrast to Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream?
  • Would Wright approve of the direction that the Civil Rights Movement took Amercia?
  • Do you think he could ever have imagined that a black man from Chicago would be the President of the United States?
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Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Native Son


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Something Bad

Not even thirty pages into Native Son, I have decided something bad is going to happen to our main character Bigger.

In the opening scene, Bigger kills a rat then tortures his sister with it.  There’s a discussion about how if Bigger does not get a job the family will lose their public assistance.  Bigger’s mom makes a terrible statement.

Bigger, sometimes I wonder why I birthed you,” she said bitterly.

Later she foretells:

And the gallows is at the end of the road you traveling, boy.  Just remember that.”

This gives us a pretty clear indication of what home life is like for our main character.

Lest you think Mrs. Thomas is the only one who sees a bleak future for Bigger, here’s what he has to say about himself:

Sometimes I feel like something awful’s going to happen to me,” Bigger spoke with a tinge of bitter pride in his voice.

Author Richard Wright is steering this novel, and he’s already let us know we’re in for a fatal collision.

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Posted by on August 24, 2013 in Native Son


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