What are the main themes in Richard Wright's novels?
The main theme in Richard Wright's novels is racial discrimination and segregation against African Americans. This is also the main theme of his autobiographies and non-fiction writings. He is considered the founder of the genre of the "protest novel" in African American literature. Wright was deeply pessimistic about race relations in the USA and he fictionalized the entrapment felt by many African Americans in the novels Lawd Today, the first to be written but published posthumously, and Native Son (1940) which gave him literary fame. Wright found himself in the apparent contradiction of being a Marxist writer with faith in the Communist Revolution, yet, at the same time, showing little hope for a better future of race relations in the US. The exploitation carried out by whites and the numerous injustices his black characters have to endure also lead the African Americans in his works to feel alienated and lonely not only in the larger society but also within that very black community that other contemporary writers such as Zora Neale Hurston celebrated. This portrayal of the black community as passive, uneducated and incapable of making progress has irritated several African American critics starting from Hurston to Baldwin, from Margaret Walker to Henry L. Gates.
In Native Son as well as in his autobiographies and short stories, Wright also explores the ways in which Communism and the Left can help the cause of African American emancipation. After several years of militancy in the American Communist Party, Wright grew critical of the party and particularly of Stalinism. He remained close to left-wing ideology and was attracted by the European Existentialism of Sartre and Camus. The Outsider (1953) is Wright's novel that testifies his attraction to Existentialism and is a departure from the focus on race relations in America as its main character is a white man