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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution

Hill, Herbert
The negro writer and the creative imagination,   pp. [244 and 245]-255 PDF (11.0 MB)

Page 246

246     that Bigger Thomas was driven to
crime because of complex social
conditions, but it was also a work of art.
Native Son achieved a popular and
artistic success at home and abroad
never before known to an American
Negro writer. The framework for Native
Son is to be found in its implicit
assumption that the social order is
directly responsible for the degradation
of the Negro and that American
society produces conditions that terribly
distort and destroy individual human
beings who belong to an oppressed
racial minority. The character in
the book who functions as Wright's
spokesman states that Negroes "taken
collectively - constitute a separate
nation shunted, stripped, and held
captive within this nation, devoid of
political, social and economic and
property rights."
Native Son is basically a novel of protest,
but Wright went beyond the attack on
environment and racial injustice to
a powerful symbolic rendering of the
narrative that is a comment on the
action described in the story.
Wright creates a world of horror and
anguish, an atmosphere in which
everything is of "the extreme situation."
For all of its limitations, Native Son
was clearly differentiated from the other
"problem novels" that preceded it.
Later in his autobiographical Black Boy
(1945), Wright tells us of his struggles
against the corrosive effects of the
environment and of the varieties of
sensitive human responses which made
possible his literary creativity and his
survival as a man.
With the publication in 1952 of Ralph
Ellison's Invisible Man there appeared
the most significant and original literary
imagination in the history of the
Negro novel. Here the relevance of
ritual and myth to literature was again
demonstrated, together with a high
sense of style and artistic discipline.
In this brilliant novel, the author was
boldly experimental, fusing reality and
fantasy in a unique and original way.
Mr. Ellison has written:
. . the most surreal fantasies are acted
out upon the streets of Harlem. . . Here
the grandchildren of those who possess no
written literature examine their lives
through the eyes of Freud and Marx,
Kierkegaard and Kafka, Malraux and
Sartre. It explains the nature of a world
so fluid and shifting that often within the
mind the real and the unreal merge
and the marvelous beckons from behind
the same sordid reality that denies
its existence.
This interweaving of "the real and the
unreal" has become a characteristic of
works by several Negro writers
coming after Wright and Ellison.
The diversity and range in contemporary
Negro literature is demonstrated by
examining the recent work of some
young writers, and suggests that
given the differences in sensitivity
and uniqueness of style there may no
longer be any such thing as a "Negro
novel" although there certainly is a
Negro response and preoccupation with
the racial situation in the United States.
The Catacombs (1965) by William Demby
is a most unusual book. Using the
techniques of the cinema-the fast
imposition of image over image-
Demby has attempted to break through
the conventional form of the novel
to something else. Much of the novel
suggests that as Demby ponders the
relationship of the "real" to the
fictional he is attempting to go beyond
the complex riddles posed by the
Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello in his

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