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Monday, May 12, 2008

Native Son

I had never read anything by Richard Wright before but knew him to be one of those Afro-American intellectual figures from the early 20th century. I had also read a reference to him somewhere right before I left the US, so when I found his book Native Son standing in my room back home (the shelfs (and the room really) having been occupied by my parents) I decided to pick it up and read it. Powerful stuff, that's for sure.

It is the story a small-time criminal who is faced with his lot in the racist American society (Chicago in the 1940s). At some point his instinct for survival leads him onto a path of violent crimes (which are disgustingly blunt in their descripton). To some extent he is far too self-reflective, intellectual and articulate for a man in his station of life, but while this might be an internal flaw of the story-telling it does the novel good as the United States' society's problems are exposed indirectly (through Bigger Thomas' deeds, thoughts and importantly the way he perceives actions of whites). Later on, Wright tries to blend his Marxist beliefs of a class struggle with some kind of a black nationalism, a black struggle against oppression, which I have to admit to find appealing at times. Apparently Wright was basically forced to leave the Party because of this personal mixture of his, but a communist lawyer's solliloquy on race, class and their impact on American society and the repression of blacks left me with few counterarguments.

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