AML Benjamin Term Paper

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Richard Wright’s Blueprint: Wisdom or Folly?

Richard Wright emerges as writer when, what many call, the Harlem Renaissance came to a close in the late 1930’s. During the 1940’s and 50’s many common themes and values of African American literature began to shift. Richard Wright contributes to this shift in 1937 when he writes a bold manifesto of literary theory called Blueprint for Negro Writing. Wright’s Blueprint for Negro Writing lays down the rules Wright thinks should govern African American literature, and criticizes what he sees as the shortcomings of the literary works of African Americans before him. This essay will evaluate each section of Wright’s blueprint. After assessment, this paper will judge whether Wright’s rules are feasible or necessary, and whether or not Wright’s criticism of earlier African American literature is warranted or fair. The first section of Wright’s blueprint is called “The Role of Negro Writing: Two Definitions.” Wright proves he is not a man who lacks bravado when he begins his “proposal” with the following words:
“Generally speaking, Negro writing in the past has been confined to humble novels, poems, and plays, prim and decorous ambassadors who went a-begging to white America” (1403).
Wright’s audacity far from wanes after his first sentence as he goes on to say white America only saw black authors as “French poodles who do clever tricks” (1403). Wright articulates the main point of his first section when he writes:
“Under these conditions Negro writing assumed two general aspects: 1) It became a sort of conspicuous ornamentation, the hallmark of “achievement.” 2) It became the voice of the educated Negro pleading with white America for justice” (1403). Richard Wright is correct when he asserts white America never took African American literature seriously. At the same time, the authors should not be blamed. Even during the time of Richard Wright, himself, white America possess a virtual monopoly of the publishing industry. Furthermore, during the times of many African American works such as the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the literate readership consists almost entirely of white people. Addressing African Americans themselves was impossible for many authors to do because (as Wright seems to overlook) the majority of their audience was not African American. The voice of many black authors were altered, abridged, or silenced through no fault of their own. Wright ends his first section with what will be the main point of his blueprint, which is African American literature can no longer be valid if it continues to avoid addressing African Americans directly. Section two of the blueprint, “Minority Outlook,” expresses what Wright believes should be the attitude African American authors as subjugated minorities. In the beginning of the section Wright describes a revelation made by Lenin. Wright says, “Lenin makes the observation that oppressed minorities often reflect the techniques of the bourgeoisie more brilliantly than some sections of the bourgeoisie themselves” (1403). The Harlem Renaissance only included the richest, brightest, and most talented blacks of the 1920’s and 1930’s, while the remaining 90% of the African America population was ignored. Thus, the context of Wright’s summary of Lenin’s writing is the fact of that the exclusiveness of the Harlem Renaissance was created as Wright would say because
“oppressed minorities, and especially the petty bourgeois sections of oppressed minorities, strive to assimilate the virtues of the bourgeoisie in the assumption that by doing so they can lift themselves into a higher social sphere” (1403).
Wright’s words put simply, the Harlem Renaissance was so exclusive because the African American elite (unconsciously?) tried to conform their values to those of high white society. “Minority Outlook” goes on to ask the following questions:
“Has this consciousness [of being a marginalized race] been reflected in the…