Uncle Tom's Children Analysis
by Richard Wright

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Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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Many critics have suggested that Wright's southern stories are his best work, and it is clear that they have continued to be widely read and often anthologized. Despite their occasionally too obvious didacticism, the stories in Uncle Tom's Children convey an emotional power that has not been diminished by the passage of time nor the alteration of the social conditions they address.

Uncle Tom's Children shows the influence of literary realism and naturalism. Wright's prose is direct and graphic, focusing on the dark and violent aspects of life in the rural South during the 1930s. His effective use of dialect and black folk culture increases the realism of his stories. As in much literary naturalism, Wright's characters sometimes seem doomed by their social environment.

Yet, Wright's style in Uncle Tom's Children is also affected by his didactic purpose. Wright's straightforward narration emphasizes his message, and like other proletarian authors Wright breaks from the pessimistic determinism of naturalism by idealizing some characters and supporting their heroic opposition to oppression with an underlying hope for melioration.

Wright's simple narrative technique is enriched by the use of symbols and allusions. Characters' names, natural phenomena, colors, and pervasive Biblical references are used to strengthen Wright's messages. As a result, the stories take on many of the characteristics of allegory.

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Uncle Tom's Children originally contained four lengthy stories: "Big Boy Leaves Home," "Down By the Riverside," "Long Black Song," and "Fire and Cloud." "Bright and Morning Star" was added to the 1940 edition. The book is unified by the stories' shared social context, common themes, and consistent narrative technique. It is made coherent by an arrangement that leads the reader toward increasingly sophisticated examples of self-realization.

The stories are set in the rural South of Wright's childhood, and they graphically portray the systematic racial oppression suffered by southern blacks. The black characters portrayed in them are weakened by poverty, threatened with racist violence, and tested by death; yet, they reveal an inherent strength and a potential for heroic rebellion.

But Wright's concern is not merely racial, for the stories describe the perennial hard times of the rural South, exacerbated by the Great Depression. Against this background of class animosity and social upheaval, Wright projects the ideal of interracial collective action.

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As Wright recounts in Black Boy (1945), literary naturalists such as Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis formed his earliest reading and provided the aspiring writer with models: "All my life had shaped me for the realism, the naturalism of the modern novels, and I could not read enough of them." After moving to Chicago, Wright was also influenced by the proletarian literature published alongside his poetry in leftist literary magazines. Meanwhile, the American public was being prepared for less romantic and more pragmatic explorations of American society and the human condition by the popular social novels of John Dos Passos, James T. Farrell, and John Steinbeck.