(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The characters in Uncle Tom's Children struggle against an environment of racial animosity that pushes them toward savagery. Through their efforts to resist this process, Wright's black protagonists attain varying degrees of self-awareness at the cost of physical and mental suffering. Ironically, some achieve a momentary vision of freedom and a better understanding of themselves only at the point of death. Their determination, despite overwhelming opposition and terrible suffering, makes them tragically doomed heroes. The arrangement of the stories presents the reader with a rough progression of increasing sophistication, as characters achieve more advanced levels of knowledge and move toward collective solutions to their social problems.

"Big Boy Leaves Home" describes Big Boy's initiation to the harsh social reality of the rural South. The story moves from the playful innocence of a day at the swimming hole to the brutal execution of one of Big Boy's companions by a white mob. Similarly, Big Boy is forced to change from an overgrown child into an emotionally hardened young man who calmly kills a rattlesnake and a dog before escaping the South and his childhood in a truck bound for Chicago.

In "Down by the Riverside," the symbolically named Brother Mann is a sacrificial character caught in a devastating flood and then destroyed by a racist system of justice that values property more than human life. Mann steals and murders to save...

(The entire section is 527 words.)