(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Long Dream is a combination of naturalistic writing and the bildungsroman, or novel of initiation, concerned with the childhood and adolescence of Rex “Fishbelly” Tucker. Fishbelly is born into a life of comparative privilege and respectability but soon discovers that his father’s cooperation with the white authorities cannot protect him from the realities of the Jim Crow, or segregated, South. In a series of dramatic and psychologically revealing episodes, Wright illustrates, through Tyree Tucker and Fishbelly, his thesis that the life of a black man is “a long dream.”

The novel begins with a number of experiences from Fishbelly’s childhood, the most memorable of which is the lynching of his older friend and sometime mentor Chris Sims. Chris commits the crime of being caught in a hotel room with a white girl. After he is discovered, killed, and mutilated by a white mob, his body is taken to Tyree’s funeral home for burial. In a moment of revelation for the young Fishbelly, his father takes him to the funeral home to display to him the badly beaten face of Chris Sims, as a warning and a demonstration of the power the white world has over the black.

Fishbelly grows up to be a respected member of the middle-class black community of Clintonville. After a brief encounter with the police while trespassing on a white property owner’s land, Fishbelly manages to avoid any contact with the white world until his sixteenth year. In that year,...

(The entire section is 608 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Long Dream is set in Clintonville, a Mississippi town of twenty-five thousand people, ten thousand of them black. The narrative is told from the point of view of Rex Tucker, nicknamed Fishbelly, a name his friends have shortened to Fish. The story begins when Fishbelly is a young child. He is the son of a prosperous black businessman whose undertaking business provides a front for his other enterprises, including ownership of many dilapidated rental properties, a bordello whose prostitutes and customers are black, and coownership with Dr. Bruce, a prosperous black professional, of The Grove, a dance hall frequented by blacks.

As a child, Fishbelly accidentally sees his father in a compromising situation with Gloria, his father’s mistress. Fishbelly is intrigued by what he sees. He does not want to look, but he cannot make himself turn away. The event causes the boy to have a highly symbolic dream, which strongly suggests that Fishbelly has a castration complex, a problem that is to figure significantly in his later life.

Fishbelly is relatively protected in his early youth. He knows little of the racial tensions that characterize the Mississippi of his youth. His parents have a comfortable existence, as secure an existence as black people in the Deep South of the mid-1930’s could have. Thus, only gradually does the boy become aware of the underlying dangers that face blacks in a racist society.

Fishbelly is first brought face-to-face with these realities when the body of Chris Sims is brought to his father’s mortuary. Chris had been caught alone in a room with a white woman, and a mob of enraged white men killed him. As Fishbelly sees Chris’s body on the embalming table, he notices that the genitals have been cut from it. He winces and puts his hand to his own genitals.

Richard Wright and other black writers often drive home the point that blacks living in subjection to whites are emasculated by their subjection, but nowhere is the point more poignantly made than in this scene from The Long Dream.

Fishbelly’s castration complex is heightened by this traumatic experience, which brings the boy to his first adult understanding of the society in which he lives and in which he has been brought up.

The incident also leads to another step in Fishbelly’s perception of his world, because shortly after it, he is arrested for the quite innocuous crime of trespassing on a white person’s property. While he is being held, the police threaten his genitals with a knife, and Fishbelly is so...

(The entire section is 1058 words.)