Richard Wright, 1938–1945: from Gorky to Dostoevsky
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- Author: Dale E. Peterson
- About the author:
Dale E. Peterson (PhD, Eliza J. Clark Folger Professor (Emeritus) of English and Russian at Amherst College, Amherst, Mass., USA)
Richard Wright’s infatuation and subsequent disenchantment with CommunismRichard Wright’s infatuation and subsequent disenchantment with Communismoccurred within the space of a few years and, significantly, it coincided with a shift ofliterary affiliation from Gorky to Dostoevsky. Wright experienced a profound identificationwith the life and writing of Gorky; his early fiction and literary pronouncementsemulated Gorky’s call to transform peasant souls into proletarian masses.Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, like Gorky’s Childhood, charts a similar journeyaway from a native culture of patriarchal violence and maternal suppression. Sometimearound 1942 Wright’s deep engagement with Dostoevsky led to a rejection ofcultural determinism and dialectical materialism. Native Son’s black Raskolnikov isakin to the miserable underground man and Wright’s “The Man Who Lived Underground”is akin to that absurd visionary, Dostoevsky’s “ridiculous” dreamer. Gorkyand Dostoevsky shaped Wright’s intellectual journey from proletarian internationalismto the existential humanism of his later works.
- Keywords: Richard Wright, Gorky, Dostoevsky, Proletarian fiction; Socialist Realism; Harlem Renaissance; autobiography; existentialism; Dreiser.
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