Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

Wright’s literary reputation was established in the early 1940s when he published two critically acclaimed bestsellers, Native Son and Black Boy, in rapid succession. Though he was a prolific writer in many genres, over the decades the great majority of critical attention has focused on these two major works and, to a lesser extent, his first book of short stories, Uncle Tom’s Children, all written before Wright turned forty.

At the height of his popularity Wright was considered the best African-American writer of his generation, but his critical reputation has since declined. In fact, recent critics view his work as uneven. In 1946 Wright left the United States to live in France. He continued to write fiction and nonfiction until his death at age fifty-two.

In 1960, when Eight Men appeared, Wright had fallen into relative obscurity with his earlier success sometimes attributed to his topical subject matter rather than the literary merits of his writing. Additionally, scholars may have neglected Wright because his career fell between two great high points in African-American letters—the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s and the Black Power movement of the 1960s. However, the rise of the field of African-American studies has led to a renewed scholarly interest in Wright in recent years.

The critical reaction to Eight Men was tepid; most reviewers find only one or two of the eight stories up to Wright’s standards. The collection contains stories written over the course of twenty-five years, representing a...

(The entire section is 645 words.)