Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424
Richard Wright's The Outsider is a somber exploration of the isolation and depressing state of African American lives in the middle of the 20th century. The main character, Cross Damon, gets an opportunity to essentially restart his life and goes through the process of trying to understand life's meaning and how to find joy, which is particularly hard as a black man in the 1950s. Here are some quotes from the novel that tie into the themes and ideas present in the work.
They laughed again. Doc sat four whiskies before them and, at the sight of the little glasses of pale brown fluid, they grew sober, almost dignified; each took up his glass daintily and threw back his head and tossed the liquor down his throat.
Early in the novel, it is shown that Cross has a drinking problem. His life has become so despicable and disheartening that he, like so many others in this time period, has turned to alcohol to solve his problems. Cross is an intellectual and introspective man who solemnly considers his actions and feels remorse and pain for the things he has done. Because of this intellectualism, it is more palatable to him to drown out his thoughts and his past with alcohol than to relive them.
Above all he loathed the Communist attempt to destroy human subjectivity . . .
Cross has been wandering, adrift after being declared legally dead. He has a new opportunity at life, but he happens upon a group of Communists and listens to their ideology. This belief system is interesting to him, but he ultimately rejects it, because it uses power to oppress individuals and remove human thought and subjectivity. He ultimately gets into a conflict and murders one of the members of the Communist group in a rage.
"'Because in my heart . . . I'm . . . I felt . . . I'm innocent . . . That's what made the horror . . ."
With his dying breaths, Damon relays to the attorney general Houston that his life was horrible. Everything he knew was horror. Houston asks him why, and Damon claims at the end that he is innocent. In spite of the terrible things that Damon ended up doing, he knows that he started his life as innocent and that he didn't deserve the mistreatment that he received as a black man. This pains him deeply, and he takes it to his grave, feeling innocent and justified in his actions. Unfortunately, feeling his own innocence made everything else more terrible simply because he didn't think he deserved the punishment he received—which he certainly didn't.