Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

William Attaway is best known for his novel Blood on the Forge (1941), a novel with black characters about migration to the industrial North. Let Me Breathe Thunder shares many of the themes of proletarian struggle and economic determinism demonstrated in his later work. Most critics comment on the oddity of a black author writing what some call a derivative novel with white characters. Certainly, the influence of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1937) can be seen in the work. Let Me Breathe Thunder contains three African Americans and one Mexican, who share a merciless fate with the poor white characters. Attaway demonstrates an understanding of both white and black consciousness and shows through the final climax the power and destruction of racial hatred. Written from the viewpoint of a white character, the book shows how white prejudice lies waiting to attack. The central theme of social and biological determinism applied to a novel about migrant workers establishes a democracy of the lost driven by race, class, and economic dysfunction. Let Me Breathe Thunder belongs to the proletarian novel tradition exemplified by such novels as Jack Conroy’s The Disinherited (1933) and Tom Kromer’s Waiting for Nothing (1935).

Let Me Breathe Thunder is a novel that can stand on its own. As a first novel, it successfully produces a compelling tension between characters both black and...

(The entire section is 457 words.)