Richard Wright

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What is the significance of the mud in Richard Wright's short story "The Man Who Saw the Flood"?

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In his review of Eight Men, the collection of short-stories where "The Man Who Saw the Flood" was published, James Baldwin wrote that the story reminded him not so much of the 1930s or African Americans, but of "human loss and helplessness". These are undoubtedly two important themes of the story and the image of mud is linked to them. The mud surrounds the helpless characters and the repetition of this image becomes almost obsessive in the story. The mud comes to represent the social, racial and economic forces that entrap black sharecroppers in the South offering them no hopes of a better future. Significantly, when the flood waters recede, the sharecroppers are left with a huge stretch of mud of which they cannot see the end. This symbolizes their unalterable condition of servants caught in a hopeless struggle against both nature and society.

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