Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

First published in 1958, The Long Dream was a financial failure for Wright, though the reviews of the novel were mixed. Wright was criticized both for being out of touch with black life in the United States after his eleven years of exile in Paris and for underestimating the quality of resistance found in black communities throughout the United States, particularly those in the South. Despite positive reviews of the novel from The Nation and Time magazines, an aura of failure surrounded the novel and Wright late in his career. An unsuccessful stage adaptation of the novel added to that aura.

The renewal of interest in Wright’s work in the 1980’s led to a reexamination of Wright’s novels of exile, of which The Long Dream is the most important. Interest in Wright as a southern writer brought about a reappraisal of the work as a commentary on his Mississippi childhood. The novel follows closely much of Wright’s early naturalistic writing, especially Uncle Tom’s Children (1938), a collection of works set in Mississippi that includes the short story “Bright and Morning Star” and the essay “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow.” In these stories, Wright includes a range of southern African Americans who resist the ideology of segregation and who are either ground down by the system, like Tyree Tucker, or who manage to escape, like Fishbelly and Big Boy of the story “Big Boy Leaves Home.”

The novel is perhaps most important as a continuation of the themes presented in Wright’s autobiographical work Black Boy (1945). Although the second volume of Wright’s autobiography, American Hunger, was suppressed until 1977, Black Boy enjoyed a wide readership and influence. In it Wright graphically depicts the initiation of a young boy into the nightmare world of segregation and racial violence. In The Long Dream, Wright gives readers both the sketch of the dream and its interpretation.