The Outsider Characters (Richard Wright)

Richard Wright

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Cross Damon, as his name implies, is the embodiment of a complex idea. Wright conceived of a man who has been martyred by his Christian upbringing and by the institutionalization of values based on Christian and other Western mythologies that have been rendered obsolete by industrialism, but also a man whose existentialist attempt to create a new and free identity merely frees his egoistic compulsion to replace the defunct Godhead with his own godlike exercise of power. Thus he acts demonically, in the senses both of Satan and tormented demiurge. He is both driven and inspired to obliterate the enemies of human freedom, only to find that the more he defeats them, the more like them he becomes. He is a shockingly violent murderer who yet can claim to be innocent of transcendental and therefore societal guilt. Ironically, he re-creates himself as a heroic outsider, only to find that every other thoughtful person, law-abiding or not, is also an outsider.

As characters, these outsiders differ only inasmuch as the ideas that they embody differ. For example, the Communists are as free of traditional mythology, as violent, and as self-serving as is Cross, but their idea is to enslave, not to set free. Houston, the district attorney, is an “ethical criminal” like Cross, but any violence that he commits is within the law. Although Houston stands outside society in his personal and philosophical points of view, he chooses to conform to societal imperatives,...

(The entire section is 544 words.)

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Because The Outsider is a novel of ideas, characterization is subordinated to exposition. Therefore, all of the characters, including Cross Damon, are types, representative of intellectual positions.

Cross Damon, although not fully believable, is a memorable character whose name suggests an inverted Christianity. As a character, Damon is informed by a variety of predecessors, such as Herman Melville’s Ahab, Dostoevski’s Raskolnikov, and Albert Camus’s Meursault. Damon is a metaphysical rebel, an ethical criminal who attempts to create “the kind of life he felt he wanted.”

Although Wright, through Ely Houston, suggests that a black intellectual such as Damon has a special objectivity, he wants Damon to be an existential Everyman who transcends racial distinctions. His protagonist, a former University of Chicago philosophy major, has been shaped by reading Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Dostoevski, and others. Psychologically, Damon has developed dialectically, in opposition to the Christian guilt imposed by his mother and the oppressive tedium of his work. Wright emphasizes that Damon’s anger and confusion are not a special condition of his blackness.

Few critics have been able to accept the contradiction between Damon’s stoicism and his passion. On the one hand, Damon is a man of reason who rejects traditional codes of behavior. He reacts to his murders with cool analysis, and he shows no emotion...

(The entire section is 478 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Cross Damon

Cross Damon, a black, intellectual postal worker in Chicago. Stifled by the middle-class restraints of his family responsibilities and his routine job, Damon, who has developed his ideas by reading existential philosophy, yearns to create an independent and more authentic existence for himself. A subway accident in which he is believed to have died provides him with the opportunity to abandon his job, girlfriend, and family. After murdering an innocent man to protect his secret, Damon travels to New York, assumes a new identity, and begins a life marked by violence and deception. He becomes involved with the Communist Party and its political struggles with corrupt landlord Langley Herndon. He murders Herndon and Gil Blount, the local leader of the Communist Party, demonstrating his struggle against the similarly stultifying forces of capitalism and communism. His affair with Blount’s widow is doomed by the deception that his situation forces on him. In the end, he is gunned down for his disloyalty by agents of the Communist Party. Damon is a metaphysical rebel who fails in his effort to live authentically; instead, he creates an existence based on lies, which leads him to play god with other people’s lives.

Gladys Damon

Gladys Damon, Damon’s estranged wife, intellectually incapable of understanding her husband’s dissatisfaction. Gladys and their three children are abandoned by Damon when he creates his new life, an act that underscores the depths of his emotional alienation.

Dorothy (Dot) Powers

Dorothy (Dot) Powers, Cross’s...

(The entire section is 667 words.)