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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 608

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...

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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, two things happen: Fishbelly drops out of school, and he later becomes enamored of the near-white girl Gladys, emulating the behavior of his father, whose light-skinned mistress Gloria Mason is the envy of the Black Belt of Clintonville. All of this comes to an abrupt end, however, when the Grove, the bar at which Gladys works, burns during a Fourth of July celebration, resulting in more than forty deaths. When it is revealed that Tyree is a co-owner of the bar, which was in violation of several fire codes, the truce arranged between Tyree and the whites comes to an end.

The remainder of the novel is an object lesson for the embryonic Civil Rights movement. Tyree, though an extortionist and a pimp, maintains some dignity by demanding from Sheriff Gerald Cantley and the whites in authority that they either live up to their business commitments or provide him with a black jury at an upcoming trial. Cantley predictably denies Tyree’s request, at which point Tyree decides that he should seek a more socially responsible form of justice. He contacts the town’s liberal white lawyer, Harvey McWilliams, and gives him the evidence necessary to convict Cantley. Things fall apart, however, when the evidence is stolen from McWilliams and when Tyree is murdered by Cantley and his operatives.

Fishbelly, heir to the Tucker fortune, is now in a position either to take up his father’s role as ally of the white power structure or to break free to experience a new mode of life. He first pursues the former, only to find that Cantley intends to treat him in the same manner as he treated his father. Fishbelly is subsequently set up in a false charge of sexual assault against a white woman. Cantley keeps Fishbelly in jail for more than a year, hoping to convince Fishbelly to relinquish any evidence that he may have against the sheriff, before McWilliams is able to get him free. Upon his release, Fishbelly decides to leave Mississippi for Paris. When he arrives in France, he writes to McWilliams and reveals to him the location of the missing evidence concerning Cantley.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1058

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 completely panicked by this threat that he passes out. Tyree Tucker comes to the police station and grovels before the white policemen in order to have his son released. Fishbelly loathes his father’s subservient attitude to these ignorant, unfair captors. He loathes even more his own terror in this threatening situation. Through this episode, Fishbelly gains a new awareness of what his father is, and this awareness does not lead to his having increased respect for him.

Despite his unfortunate brush with the white authorities, Fishbelly loves the white world because it represents to him a world in which people can progress according to their abilities, a luxury that he believes is not available to American blacks. The next crucial event in Fishbelly’s coming of age occurs when The Grove, the dance hall his father and Dr. Bruce own, burns down. Forty-two people die in the fire, among them Fishbelly’s mistress, Gladys. This event, based on an actual dance hall fire at the Rhythm Club in Natchez, Mississippi, leads to a revelation of far-reaching consequences for Fishbelly.

It is revealed that through the years, Tyree and Dr. Bruce have been paying regular monthly bribes to Chief of Police Cantley so that he will overlook fire-code violations at the Grove. They have paid the bribes by check, and Tyree has had his mistress, Gloria, hold the canceled checks so that he might use them against Chief Cantley should the need ever arise. Chief Cantley has also been Tyree’s partner in the bordello that Tyree owns, so he is deeply involved in illicit activities that Tyree can document. Tyree decides that he must make public the bribes Cantley has been taking, and he turns the canceled checks over to a white reformer, who decides that he must deliver them to a grand jury. Cantley, however, has the checks snatched as they are on their way to the grand jury, and Tyree now fears that Cantley will take from him everything he has worked his whole lifetime to acquire.

Cantley, however, wants more than Tyree’s money. Knowing that he can never have peace of mind while Tyree is alive, he sets up an ambush, and Tyree is killed. As he lies mortally wounded, Tyree expresses his relief that at least his holdings have not been taken from him.

Fishbelly inherits his father’s property and has the financial means to leave Clintonville if he so desires. He finds that he cannot bring himself to leave behind the thriving enterprises that his father has developed over many years, however, and he decides to replace his father as head of these businesses. Fishbelly was never one to admire his father’s business tactics or his subservience in dealing with whites, but now he is willing to become like his father, a role that will necessitate resorting to Tyree’s exploitative and hypocritical tactics.

Fishbelly, however, is not destined to serve as his father’s replacement. In the novel’s final section, “Waking Dreams,” he comes into possession of some of the incriminating canceled checks that Gloria had been holding. Gloria and Dr. Bruce flee to Memphis, and Chief Cantley, fearing that Fishbelly has evidence that could incriminate him, trumps up a rape charge against Fishbelly, who serves more than two years in prison.

Upon his release, Fishbelly leaves not only the South but also the United States. He goes to Paris to join his childhood friends, Tony and Zeke, who are there serving in the American military. Wright leaves his readers with the message that salvation for the American black does not lie in leaving the South and going to the North but rather that the black’s only realistic solution is to leave the country altogether.

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