Born on a plantation near Natchez,
Mississippi, on September 4, 1908.
Son of a sharecropper who deserted his
family when Wright was 5.
His mother became ill, and the family
moved to Jackson, Mississippi with his
– Grandmother tried to stop Wright from writing.
His grandmother attempted to crush his
Wright and his brother lived in an
orphanage for a short time because of
He would recall his childhood as a “time of
– For food, but also for affection, understanding,
Although a very good student, Wright
never graduated from high school.
Wright’s jobs in the South were marked by
harassment by whites and by his own disdain for
what segregation and racism had done to distort
the humanity of his fellow blacks, as he saw it.
The harsh conditions of the South pushed
Wright to his first exposure with Urban
– Wright said he “could not read enough of them.”
In 1927, Wright fled the South for Chicago.
In Chicago, Wright seemed headed for a career
in the post office but was also determined to
become a writer.
Wright found a circle of friends with similar views
in 1933 when he joined the John Reed Club.
– It was a nationwide organization founded by the
communist party to attract writers and artists.
Between 1933 and 1940 (the first major stage of
his literary career), communism was clearly the
major intellectual and political force of Wright’s
In 1938 four of his stories were collected as
Uncle Tom’s Children.
He then received a Guggenheim Fellowship,
which allowed him to complete his first novel,
Native Son (1940).
In 1939, he married Dhimah Rose Meadman, a
white dancer, but the two separated shortly
In 1941, he married Ellen Poplar, a white
member of the Communist Party, and they had
two daughters, Julia in 1942 and Rachel in
After moving to Paris in 1946, Wright became friends
with Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus while going
through an Existentialist phase best depicted by his
second novel, The Outsiders (1953).
In his last years, he was plagued by illness (aerobic
dysentary) and financial hardship.
Throughout this period he wrote approximately 4,000
English Haikus (some of which were recently published
for the first time) and another novel, The Long Dream, in
After his death on November 28, 1960, another of his
collections of short stories, Eight Men, was published.
His most famous work is still his autobiographical work,
Black Boy (1945).
This was meant to be America’s guide in
confronting the danger of facing the profound
consequences of more than two centuries of the
enslavement and segregation of blacks in North
Slavery and neo-slavery had led to the
development of a psychology of timidity,
passivity, and even cowardice among African
Wright suggests that it also gives rise to
characters like Bigger Thomas.
– These characters are estranged from both
black and white culture through their hatred of
both cultures, which gives rise to acts of
– These acts of violence were most often aimed
at other African Americans, but Wright warned
that one day it would be aimed at whites.
The term Naturalism describes a type of
literature that attempts to apply scientific
principles of objectivity and detachment to its
study of human beings.
– Unlike Realism, which focuses on literary technique,
naturalism implies a philosophical position:
For Naturalistic writers, since human beings are, in Emile
Zola's phrase, "human beasts," characters can be studied
through their relationships to their surroundings.
Urban Naturalism believes that the urban setting forced upon
African Americans affects and afflicts them as a race.
– Similar to Realism, Naturalism does not avoid what is
deemed as “repulsive.”
Key themes of Urban Naturalism:
– Survival, determinism, violence, and taboo.
– The "brute within" each individual,
composed of strong and often warring emotions:
– passions, such as lust, greed, or the desire for dominance or
– and the fight for survival in an amoral, indifferent universe.
The conflict in naturalistic novels is often "man against
nature" or "man against himself"
– Characters struggle to retain a "veneer of civilization" despite
external pressures that threaten to release the "brute within.“
– Example: Bigger Thomas
– The forces of heredity and environment affect, and
afflict, individual lives, specifically African Americans.
What is neo-slavery?
(Slavery by Another Name,
Douglas Blackmon )
In Slavery by Another Name, Douglas Blackmon of the
Wall Street Journal argues that slavery did not end in the
United States with the Emancipation Proclamation in
1862. He writes that it continued for another 80 years, in
what he calls an "Age of Neoslavery."
"The slavery that survived long past emancipation was
an offense permitted by the nation," Blackmon writes,
"perpetrated across an enormous region over many
years and involving thousands of extraordinary
Other than naturalism, two other intellectual
forces came together to shape Native Son;
communism and existentialism.
– the political and economic doctrine that aims to
replace private property and a profit-based economy
with public ownership and communal control of at
least the major means of production and the natural
resources of a society.
– The Existentialist conceptions of freedom and
value arise from their view of the individual.
Since we are all ultimately alone, isolated
islands of subjectivity in an objective world,
we have absolute freedom over our internal
nature, and the source of our value can only
– Main principle:
Existence precedes Essence.
To review the essential beliefs of French
existentialists, consider the following ideas:
1. Existentialists believe in free will.
2. Existentialists do not recognize any human or
– Denied God’s existence in a cruel world, full of suffering.
– No Faith because no hope.
3. Existentialists believe that they are responsible for
all the consequences of their actions.
4. Existentialists do not believe in an afterlife.
5. Sartre stated that we "are condemned to be free."
6. Camus stated that "life is absurd."
Themes and Goals of Native Son
Major goal of Wright’s writing:
– The exposure of the starkest realities of American life
where race was concerned.
– The effects of racism on the individual
– The comforts of Religion