Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 260

The common theme of the stories in Uncle Tom's Children is the struggle to find personal dignity in an oppressive society, but the individual stories in the collection describe various levels of self-awareness and portray various reactions to oppression. Throughout the book, a tension between Wright's faithful presentation of the...

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The common theme of the stories in Uncle Tom's Children is the struggle to find personal dignity in an oppressive society, but the individual stories in the collection describe various levels of self-awareness and portray various reactions to oppression. Throughout the book, a tension between Wright's faithful presentation of the Communist Party line and his heretical, intuitive belief in black nationalism is evident.

Written before Wright broke with the Communist Party, the stories express his belief in Marxist theories of economic determinism and his belief in the efficacy of collective action. This didactic presentation of Marxist theory is most obvious in "Fire and Cloud," which concludes with a triumphant, though improbable, interracial protest march, and in "Bright and Morning Star," which idealizes the personal sacrifices made to protect the secrecy of an interracial Communist organization. However, parallel messages are communicated less directly in the other stories, for all of the stories demonstrate the deterministic influence of social and economic conditions and the futility of an individual's effort to rebel unless that effort is part of a collective action.

Nevertheless, the stories also display Wright's intuitive belief in black nationalism. His black characters, often through a revelatory experience of racist violence, are made aware of their status as outsiders. There is no emotional shading, and the reader must sympathize with the oppressed blacks and despise the cruelty of the whites. Although Wright introduces sympathetic white Communists in two stories, they are not believable, and the ideal of interracial cooperation is undercut by his graphic depictions of racist violence committed by whites.

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