The Richer, the Poorer Essay - Critical Essays

The Richer, the Poorer

This collection displays samples of Dorothy West’s artistry over a lifetime of writing and reveals, through her accounts of her own family history and the places and people she has known, many of the real-life sources for the themes and characters that appear in her fiction. THE RICHER, THE POORER is an anthology of short stories combined with a variety of personal reminiscences and historical sketches, most of which were originally published in periodicals between 1926 and 1987. The collection focuses on African American family life, and the themes of impoverishment, prejudice, self-development, and desire. West examines real and fictional human relationships: of siblings, of husband and wife, mother and daughter, surrogate parent and child, or women friends. She intricately explores differences of race, color, and class, with particular attention to the effects of poverty and racism upon individual human potential.

West is a master of stories of psychological development that reveal moral character, twists of fate that often revolve around a symbolic object, and parables that pair the often opposite traits of love and greed. A Boston-bred middle-class woman of education and privilege, West frequently uses her storytelling to explore the consciousness of impoverished people who live in want. In her stories of human longing, of choice and destiny, it is sometimes the richer in means who are the poorer in character, and the poor who are rich in family, in loyalty, or in love.

Set in Boston, Moscow, New York City, and elsewhere, the sketches range widely from a profile of Harlem Renaissance writer Wallace Thurman, personal memoirs from West’s career and family experience, and an overview of the history and social strata of West’s beloved island home, Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCI, July, 1995, p. 1854.

Boston Globe. July 23, 1995, p. 37.

Chicago Tribune. July 30, 1995, XIV, p. 3.

Los Angeles Sentinel. August 3, 1995, p. C4.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. August 3, 1995, p. 6.

Ms. V, May-June 1995, p. 73.

The New York Times Book Review. C, August 6, 1995, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, May 22, 1995, p. 47.

Time. CXLVI, July 24, 1995, p. 67.

The Washington Post. July 6, 1995, p. C1.

Women’s Review of Books. XIII, November, 1995, p. 20.