Richard Wright and His American Critics, 1936-1960

Ward, Jerry Washington, Jr., Department of English, University of Virginia

Richard Wright is not only an important American writer but one of the most eloquent voices of black experience in the twentieth century. The man and his work have been examined from many angles, but the major studies of Wright only incidentally relate American criticism to his work. Measured against the social and intellectual history of its time, the criticism of Wright's work is representative of a particular process in the use of American literature--the incorporation of social change in the language of criticism. This dissertation illustrates this process in the criticism of Wright's work published between 1936 and 1960. Although Wright had attracted the notice of American Marxist critics prior to 1936, he achieved broader critical recognition only when his story "Big Boy Leaves Home" was published in The New Caravan. The study ends with 1960, the year of Wright's death.

The dissertation is divided into five chapters. Chapter One, "Art and Propaganda: Responses to the Black Writer as Communist," is an examination of responses to the early fiction in Uncle Tom's Children (1938). The second "Art and the Nemesis of Race: Initial Responses to Native Son, deals with reactions to Wright's first novel (1940). The third chapter, "Art and History: Responses to Wright's Concepts of History," treats responses to 12 Million Black Voices (1941), shifts in response occasioned by Wright's disavowal of the Communist Party, and the responses to Black Boy (1945). Chapter Four, "Art and Exile: Responses to Wright's Existentialism," discusses criticism of the novels The Outsider (1953) and The Long Dream (1958). Chapter Five, "Art and Social Consciousness: Responses to Wright's Social and Racial Vision," considers the reactions to Black Power (1954), The Color Curtain (1956), Pagan Spain (1957) and White Man, Listen! (1957).

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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