Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The book The Outsider by Richard Wright is a critical look at the world of the middle-twentieth century for African Americans. It follows the story of Cross Damon, an intellectual black man whose life is fraught with the troubles common to African Americans in that time period. Here are several themes that are present in the novel.

Rebirth and the Opportunity for Reinvention

The main character is named very metaphorically. He is a representation of Christ and yet also a demon because he represents the duality of man and good and evil. Because of his Christ-typification, he is shown to have a "resurrection" experience. He is mistaken for dead during an accident early in the events of the novel, but he comes to and has the opportunity to reinvent himself. He experiences life again as if he is new to it, but it is no better.

Isolation and Loneliness

Cross is, initially, a very isolated man. He has no family and his friends are pretty much only around to drink with. He drowns his sorrows in alcohol because he has no joy in his life. Later in the story, after his near-death experience, he meets with a group of Communists, and he begins to believe that he may find community in this organization. He later realizes, however, that they are oppressive and strip the people of subjective thought. Even when he finds a lover, she commits suicide after learning about Damon's past. In the end, Damon dies alone, with an enemy at his side reminding him of how horrible his life was.

The Pursuit of Happiness

As a black man in the 1950s, life is pretty desolate for Cross. He searches everywhere he can to find hope and joy to improve his life. He turns to different ideologies, to alcohol, and eventually to a mistress, but he can never find enduring happiness. He descends into a more chaotic and destructive state, eventually murdering multiple people because of the desolation that fills his life.

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