Go to the Digital Library top page!

Language Arts


Black Hunger
by Charles Lee
Philadelphia Record
March 1, 1945

Richard Wright's autobiography, "Black Boy" may very possibly go down as one of the most memorable books of our time, a kind of 20th century "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Though it may not cause the immediate sensation stirred up by the author's lurid best-seller, "Native Son," it is in our judgment much the better book, more potent more dramatic if less theatrical more accurate in its aim, more telling in impact. Indeed it is the raw material out of which that unforgettable novel was forged.

Subtitled "A record of Childhood and Youth," Wright's new work is quiveringly animate. Life breathes in its pages with a reality and an intensity given only to the great recorders of the human scene. The result is that "Black Boy" is as intimate a personal story as you have ever read, fearlessly candid, a revelation of the clockwork beneath the ticking of one man's heart. But it is not an exhibitionist exposure, not self-exploitation, neither is it the product of masochism, it is, instead, a laying open of personality, at obviously great pain, in the interest of a cause, a cause greater than self and worthy of the sacrifice of soul's peace and privacy, the cause of human dignity, in this particular case the cause of the American Negro.

Wright is today recognized as both an outstanding member of his race and a distinguished artist, and could easily coast along on the esteem and riches which his talent has won him. But he is no coaster. He is a crusader. He does not only dirge, he is hotly angry, he points, he speaks out, he challenges. And on his feet, not his knees.

"Black Boy" is no Hollywood serving of magnolia and julep, it is a piece of immediate Danteian reality made in the U.S.A., a candid-camera recording of the virulent Fascist tumor that exists in our democratic body. The cure? Democracy itself. Not the promulgation of ideals, but their acceptance; the practice of all those attitudes which make for a decent respect between men, regardless of race, color and creed.

As Wright unfolds the bleak story of his incredibly underprivileged life from Mississippi odd-jobs man to Chicago writer — nor in the telling of it does he spare the sins of his people or minimize his own faults — it reduce's itself to a series of gnawing hungers, hunger for food, for friendship, for love, for normality, for security, for the things of the spirit and mind, in the end, in near-madness and dreams, for a totally different existence.

Living in one squalid house after another, starved for even subsistence sustenance set upon by gangs, let to wander the streets (he was a drunkard at six), clutching his rags, threatened with hell by religious fanatics, poorly schooled, never medicated, brutally beaten by his own family, nearly killed by whites and living in constant terror of their sadistic whimsies and coded arrogance, Wright's miracle is that he did not end up as either the degraded, grinning "non-man" caricature of humanity resignedly accepted by his fellows as the typical Negro's lot, or a murderer. Yet more wonderful is that out of this day-and-nightmare of a life he arose a commanding artist in realism (he details his artistic and intellectual beginnings, crediting most to his mother and H.L. Mencken), a man not softened but ennobled by suffering and dedicated, in the belief that it can and must be won, to the battle for those educative, economic and, fundamentally, spiritual conditions which are necessary to the democratization of Negro life.

1 of 3 next »

Need help searching?
Search help

Search eCUIP:

Examples: or
Contact eCUIP!

Need help?

Return to the eCUIP top page!