I just finished reading The Outsider by Richard Wright, and I wanted to share my thoughts.
Cross found himself joining in the laughter. His heart went out to these rejected men whose rebel laughter banished self-murder from his thoughts. If only he could lose himself in that kind of living! Were there not somewhere in this world rebels with whom he could feel at home, men who were outsiders not because they had been born black and poor, but because they had thought their way through the many veils of illusion? But where were they? How could one find them?
Set in the 1950s, The Outsider follows Chicago native Cross Damon, a 26-year-old Black man who yearns for freedom in a society that stifles it. His search for that freedom comes with heartbreak and murder, which leaves him on the run and into the arms of the Communist Party.
Throughout this blog, I’ve referenced Richard Wright as one of the godfathers of African American storytelling. The poetry he uses to enhance the scenery, dialogue, and plot puts him in a category as being one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century. So much so that I’ve entitled him “my favorite author” since boyhood. But as an adult who’s read more of his work, I can confirm that that was premature.
I despise this book and the common theme I’ve noticed in Wright’s writings: the incitement of the now-popular “Black Men Ain’t Sh*t” narrative.
Wright sensationalized domestic drama, justified urban dysfunction (now labeled Black culture), and empathized with mentally weak, selfish Black men who happen to be the main characters the reader is navigating the world through. His usage of identity politics to tackle race relations in America, particularly at the height of Jim Crow, was logical because he was an African American scholar. But having Black men who make senseless decisions for no reason other than narcissism makes it hard for readers like me, African American men, to care about their arcs or champion their success throughout the story.
Both the main characters in Wright’s Native Son and The Outsider, for example, Bigger Thomas and Cross Damon, were so unlikeable that I rooted for their downfall throughout their stories. Not only did they destroy their own lives and the lives of their immediate family members & loved ones, but Wright’s attempt to justify it with “woe is meisms” was lazy and irresponsible. Because neither one of their backstories came with the kind of trauma that would support their behavior as adult men.
Yes, Thomas and Damon were the only types of men who could maintain the drama you witness in both books. But if the end result was their demise that they brought on themselves, even though they had the potential to change their situation, as the reader, I can only look at these men as narcissistic crybabies who wasted my time.
I won’t be reading any more of Richard Wright’s work.
Until Next Time…