Friday, June 17, 2011


The Long Dream, Richard Wright, Doubleday & Company, 1958, 384 pp

Richard Wright returns to fiction after his string of non-fiction books about the Black experience in Africa. He also returns to America.

Fishbelly's story opens when he is five years old with the incident that gave him his nickname. The chapter is written from the viewpoint of a boy that age and at first I thought Wright had lost his fiction chops and gone simple minded. As I read on, I saw the power of his writing. Fishbelly grows chapter by chapter to young manhood, but the reader always sees his world through Fishbelly's perspective at any given age. He figures out his parents, his black neighborhood and black school, his black friends in a small southern town.

Tyree, his father, is the undertaker for their community. But his elevated financial standing implies other sources of income. Scenes of Fishbelly at school and with his friends depict the boy's growing awareness of what Tyree does, including the man's easy infidelities. The child's first arrest for trespassing with his friends on a white man's property awakens him to the racial situation as well as to his father's mysterious standing in the white community.

The novel entitled The Long Dream could have been called "The Long Awakening." Fishbelly awakens from the dream of a young boy protected by his mother to the realities of race, sex, money, oppression and the inherent dishonesty involved when a black man decides to survive above the level of downtrodden apathy.

Wright's last novel is a powerful tale of powerlessness. In fact, power is the theme running through all of his books. I am humbled by the man's intellect and strength of vision. From him I have learned that true power comes from the mind, not from force.

Richard Wright died in 1960.

(The Long Dream is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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