Born in Mississippi of sharecropper parents, Richard Nathaniel Wright had a lonely and troubled childhood. His father deserted the family early, and after his mother suffered a stroke, Wright was forced at a young age to work to help support the family, which moved frequently from one relative to another. His portrayal of his mother is of a stern but loving parent, unable to contend with the stronger personality of his extremely religious grandmother. Wright’s grandmother believed that all fiction was “the devil’s lies”; her chief goal was to force Wright into a religious conversion, a goal in which she was singularly unsuccessful.
Wright’s direct connection to family members who had been slaves came through both sets of grandparents. Richard Wilson, his mother’s father, had been a slave in the cotton fields and had fled slavery to serve in the Civil War. His anger against whites carried throughout his life and was fueled by the government’s refusal to offer disability assistance. This bitter figure was a strong influence on Wright’s own angst. Less influential to Wright’s ideology was his paternal grandfather, Nathaniel Wright, who had been a slave, a Civil War soldier, and a sharecropper in the post-Civil War south.
Wright moved from school to school, attempting to make friends and make his talents known. Though both tasks were difficult, he became valedictorian of his class. Even this accomplishment was spoiled when the principal insisted...
(The entire section is 608 words.)