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RICHARD WRIGHT'S EXPERIMENT IN NATURALISM AND SATIRE: LAWD TODAY Yoshinobu Hakutani* Lawd Today, completed by 1935 and released posthumously in 1963, is an anomaly in Richard Wright's canon since it was written first but published last. Not only has it puzzled critics since its publication, but it has elicited a variety of responses. Granville Hicks, in a review entitled "Dreiser to Farrell to Wright," affectionately defended Lawd Today, calling it less powerful than Native Son or Black Boy but uniquely interesting.1 What interested Hicks in this novel is that, though Wright was an avowed communist at the time of composition, he did not make a communist out of Jake Jackson, its protagonist. Jake even despises communism, but he also refuses to become a victim of capitalism. Sympathetic critics have considered Wright's delineation of Jake superb, or at least as good as that of any other character in his best fiction: Jake is uneducated, frustrated, but alive. Even James Baldwin, who had earlier assailed Wright's treatment of Bigger Thomas in Native Son,2 came around and said "his great forte, it now seems to me, was an ability to convey inward states by means of externals."3 In general, those opposed to Naturalism in modern fiction were not appreciative of Lawd Today. Nick Aaron Ford, a black critic, could not even believe that it was written by Richard Wright. Objecting to Wright's concept as well as technique, Ford deplored the book's melodramatic and disjointed pattern "with a multitude of hackneyed episodes."4 Aside from Ford, no one has really objected to Wright's theme and content. Lawd Today is a black writer's painfully direct and honest rendition of a racial victim. To some readers, it is an interesting treatment of the anti-hero;5 to others, it is a satire on the mechanized urban society, a realistic portrayal of black life in Chicago's South Side in the depression years.6 Michel Fabre's biography of Wright shows that the details of Wright's experience in Chicago as a postal worker closely correspond to those in the novel.7 If Lawd Today is regarded as a failure, the flaw must be found in its form and technique. Externally the book resembles James Joyce's Ulysses, which Wright had read:8 the action is restricted to the classical unity of time and place. All the significant events of the protagonist's 'Yoshinobu Hakutani is a Professor of English at Kent State University. Among his numerous publications are Young Dreiser: A Critical Study, Critical Essays on Richard Wright, and Selected Magazine Articles ofTheodore Dreiser: Life and Art in the American 1890s. He is now at work on the writings of Yone Noguchi, a Japanese American poet and critic. 166Yoshinobu Hakutani life occur in the same place and within twenty-four hours. Both Jake Jackson and Leopold Bloom are psychologically and sexually estranged from their wives; both have self-doubts and are socially frustrated. They suffer various nightmares and fantasies, go to bars with their friends, and meet prostitutes. But there are obvious differences: Jake is a black in white America while Bloom is a Jew in Catholic Ireland. Jake tries to air his frustration by physical violence; Bloom has an inward, brooding personality. The most important difference is that of style and technique. Joyce's parodies of English authors and his use of interior monologues, free association, question-and-answer form, and classical allusions are well blended in describing Bloom's world. On the other hand, Wright's use of radio broadcasts, card games, historical references, and his parodies of political systems are all interesting in themselves but may not be well suited for the one-dimensional characterization of Jake Jackson. Unlike Bloom, Jake is not merely the protagonist but the only character whose actions constitute the action of the novel. The book is divided into three parts, "Commonplace," "Squirrel Cage," and "Rats' Alley," each corresponding chronologically to the three periods in Jake's typical day. This might be compared to Wright's division of Native Son into "Fear," "Flight," and "Fate," but his theme basically differs between the two novels. Both novels are Naturalistic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 165-178
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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