The Man Who Lived Underground

by Richard Wright

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Fred Daniels
Fred Daniels is the African-American protagonist of the story, the man who lived underground. He is an Everyman, whose name is not revealed until he attempts to type it out on the typewriter in the jewelry shop. A few hours later, when he tries to type his name again, even he cannot remember it. He is hiding in the sewer to escape the police, who have forced him to confess to murdering a white woman (He had been employed at the home of a Mrs. Wooten, a neighbor of the murdered woman.) As the story unfolds and he travels through the sewer tunnels and through a series of connecting basements, little more is learned about him. He recognizes but rejects Christian hymns (in fact, he knows ''most of the churches in the area''), and he is able to use carpentry tools and ran wiring. For the purposes of the story, his former life above ground is insignificant. It is what he learns underground, and his return as a new man to the world above, that matter. Ultimately, people with his newfound knowledge cannot be absorbed into society. Daniels is murdered, and there is no mention of anyone who will notice his disappearance.

Johnson is one of the three police officers who beat a confession out of Fred Daniels and attempt to do the same to the night watchman, Thompson. Of the three, he is the most tentative, allowing Lawson to do his thinking for him.

Lawson is the leader among the three police officers. His name is ironic, because he is not a ''son of the law," but a man who has corrupted the law for his own purposes. Under his direction, Johnson and Murphy have beaten two innocent men, leading to one false confession and one suicide. When he orders them to say nothing about Daniels's emergence and about burning the false confession, they agree with no questions. They do not even question why they are following Daniels to the sewer and seem genuinely surprised when Lawson shoots Daniels in cold blood. One of them asks Lawson why he shot Daniels. He replies, "You've got to shoot his kind. They'd wreck things."

Murphy is another of the three police officers and the one who has the most sympathy for the protagonist. When Daniels appears at the police station after his time underground, Murphy toes to tell him that his name has been cleared, but he is silenced by Lawson. He believes Daniels is harmless but insane.

Thompson is the night watchman in the jewelry shop. He is sound asleep, with a picture of his wife and children at his head and his gun on the floor beside him, when Daniels empties the safe and also takes the gun. The next day, he is accused of the robbery by the same policemen who accused Daniels, and they beat the watchman as they earlier beat the protagonist, trying to get him to confess. When he is left alone for a few minutes, he kills himself.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access



Critical Essays